Advent Calendar

The Little Steamroller by Graham Greene and Edward Ardiozzone

Here's a special thing – a Christmas thriller by the author of Brighton Rock and The Third Man, drawn by the illustrator of Stig of the Dump and Little Tim, with a hero to rival Thomas or Ivor.

The Little Steamroller was Graham Greene's final tale in a series about plucky little transporters. Following the adventures of Little Train, Fire Engine and Horse Bus we are driven into some familiar Greene territory – a global network of shady criminals.

Mr King, of the Black Hand Gang is attempting to smuggle gold through customs, which he has squirrelled away inside some children's building blocks. The dastardly Mr King doesn't exactly make himself inconspicuous though, grumbling about delays to the flight, grunting at air stewardesses and bashing kids about with his heavy hand luggage.

Somehow he manages to fool customs – who have obviously not been trained to spot LIARS – and King is sent off with a chalk written OK on his suitcase.

But he doesn't reckon on the Little Steamroller, who foils his plot on Christmas eve alerted by a premonition and aided a remarkable ability to crack secret codes.

Ardizzone is the perfect foil for Greene, his lovely sketchy style proving extremely effective in depicting both moustachioed ne'er do wells and harried airport workers.

The world of mid-century intercontinental crime networks plotting in far flung parts of Africa contrasts beautifully with the snowbound airport, where cold air and a permanent dusk hangs over the Little Steamroller.

I particularly love the spread showing the steamroller at home, huffing and puffing away while his driver struggles to sleep in the bedroom above. It reminded me of being a child, getting up in the small hours and sneaking downstairs in near darkness that had the quality of black and white movies. The Christmas tree would be unlit, but I was kept warm by the embers in the fireplace as I sureptitiously peeled open the thinly wrapped corners of my best looking presents.

And what does the Little Steamroller find lying under his tree? 'Nuggets of coal which Bill Driver wrapped up for him in Christmas present paper that made them taste quite different.' Yum.

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