Christopher Hull is a footslogging, down-to-earth lecturer in Spanish and Latin American studies at Leicester University, who has written what he calls ‘the story behind a story and the story that follows the story’. It is the kind of obsessive book I like best — a full-body immersion into Greeneland, which may overwhelm the uninitiated but delight his most committed readers... There are perils in following Greene’s footsteps too closely: his biographer Norman Sherry went mad. Hull treads the windy side of sanity. He is capable of veering between the dizzily literal and the wildly speculative (‘surely we can assume, ‘it is logical’, ‘it is possible’), but for the most part he keeps on track.
In “Our Man Down in Havana” Mr Hull argues that, as well as drawing on his secret-service experience to describe the bumbling nature of much intelligence work, Greene was eerily prophetic about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which arose when reconnaissance flights proved that the Soviet Union was constructing missile sites on the island. He makes a game case, but some readers might conclude that coincidence is a more apt judgment than prescience. Mr Hull even sees Greene’s “clairvoyance” at work in the faulty evidence of weapons of mass destruction on which the invasion of Iraq was based in 2003.
It would be interesting to know what the novelist would make of that reverent appraisal. Still, Mr Hull’s book is a delicious companion to the tale Greene confected from the incompetence of spooks and an island in turmoil.