Francois Gallix, a professor of contemporary literature in English at the Sorbonne in Paris, was studying in Austin, Texas, on a Fulbright scholarship when he came across something unexpected among the papers of the late author Graham Greene: an unfinished murder mystery titled The Empty Chair.
"I found this manuscript that had been forgotten by everyone," Gallix tells Robert Siegel. "It's not mentioned in any of Greene's biographies."
The manuscript, which Gallix describes as containing "a lot of humor," was written in 1926, when the author was 22.
Greene's children agreed to let The Strand Magazine serialize the novel, which has four lengthy chapters followed by a fifth chapter that ends rather abruptly. The serialization began in The Strand's summer 2009 issue and will continue until summer 2010.
The story opens with a dinner at an elegant English country house, but quickly turns into a mystery when the body of one of the guests is found in a bedroom upstairs.
Gallix describes the piece as "much more than just an Agatha Christie novel. ... It's extremely well-constructed. It's a puzzle. And there are links between the various pieces."
While the skill that marks the author's later work is evident in the unfinished novella, Gallix says that The Empty Chair is not easily identifiable as a work by Greene. (This fact was borne out in December, when The Times of London published the first chapter of the manuscript without a byline — accompanied by a challenge to readers to identify the unnamed author. Three experts weighed in, and none of them guessed Greene.)
Andrew Gulli, The Strand's managing editor, says that once the serial is published in full, he hopes to either run a contest in which writers submit their own ending to the novel, or have a professional writer finish it.
"I was thinking of either John le Carre or a writer like Alexander McCall Smith," Gulli says.