It is generally agreed that Greene’s first mature period of development coincides with the religious novels which include such titles as Brighton Rock (1938), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), and The End of the Affair (1951). To a lesser extent, A Burnt-Out Case is part of this group in which Greene’s understanding of Catholicism emerges as a significant narrative force. With the appearance of The Quiet American, Greene announces a new direction in his fiction: The vision is outward-looking, and its focus is more squarely on the public world of international politics than it is on the varieties of religious faith. Along with The Honorary Consul, the major political novels which follow are The Comedians (1966) and The Human Factor (1978).
The Honorary Consul is an important book in Greene’s career because, better than any other, it brings into a unified whole the two predominant themes of his mature fiction, religion and politics. The narrative vehicle of the novel, a politically motivated kidnaping directed by a deeply religious man, allows Greene to combine moral issues with a serious examination of the political as well as the spiritual role of the Catholic Church. This book is about political commitment by men of varying degrees of religion. It is a credit to Greene’s skill as a dramatic writer that such weighty concerns as he is manipulating never tear through the fictional fabric of the novel and erupt into pure polemic. The inanities of contemporary religious and political debate are dramatized in genuinely human terms as Plarr, Rivas, and Fortnum argue life and death in their hut while the police move ever closer.