Greenmantle by John Buchan

Greenmantle is the sequel to The 39 Steps but there is much more to this book than the previous one. Set in 1915, Richard Hannay is recuperating at Furling country house in Hampshire after having been wounded at the Battle of Loos. He is expecting to be given command of his own battalion but when he gets a telegram from the Foreign Office, he ends up working undercover with others.

Sir Walter Bullivant has already lost his son on the same mission. When Harry Bullivant died he had 10 bullets in him but managed to say one word ‘Kasredin’ before he died. With just a few more clues Richard Hannay takes up the trail.

Going undercover as a South African Boer who hates the English, Hannay pretends to be on the side of the Germans, who are planning to stir up revolt amongst the Muslims. He is aided by three others, Peter Pienaar a South African, John S. Blenkiron an American and Sandy Arbuthnot a Scot.

First published in 1916, this book has a much more convoluted storyline than The 39 Steps. As you would expect from an adventure/spy novel which is almost 100 years old, it contains rampant racism, homophobia and sexism but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story.

As you can imagine, Greenmantle was a huge bestseller during the First World War.

Given the state of the world today, nothing much seems to have changed in all that time, except we aren’t fighting Germans now.

The writer Allan Massie said ‘Maybe Greenmantle should be a set-book for our security services.’

It could only help – they need something.

An enjoyable adventure story.

5 thoughts on “Greenmantle by John Buchan

  1. Decided to read some Buchan, enjoyed 39 Steps so decided to go on to Greenmantle. Had trouble getting into it as the little is known of the background history, and though the English is very formal compared to today’s, I per-severed and now really enjoying it. It doesn’t seem almost 100 years old, seems like just another ‘behind enemy lines’ story, where undercover operatives must rely on their wits and nerve.The story is complex but the suspense is built up gradually and the reader is lead on a fast paced edgy ride. Really recommend this to anyone who likes stories about espionage.
    Buchan stretches the reader’s vocabulary, but that’s mental stimulating you won’t get with today’s literature.

    • Kris,
      They are rattling good reads, I suppose they were the adult version of boys’ adventure stories in their day. I read a lot of older books so I find the vocabulary and style easy reading when compared with something like Walter Scott. Buchan had an amazing diplomatic career at the same time he was writing his books, I think that must have been his way of relaxing. I’m hoping to read them all eventually.

  2. Katrina,
    Hello, wow there really is someone out there!
    Well after relating the outline of Greenmantle to my sister, I’ve now got her enthused and she wants to read it. At this stage of my read my characters are still in Germany and I am on tenterhooks. I’m assuming you’re a Scot, can you tell me how you pronounce Buchan? There are two pronunciations. I’m an Aussie, I live in Brisbane.

    • Kris,
      Buchan is pronounced with the emphasis on the Bu and the ‘u’ is sounded as in the word – but. The ‘ch’ sound is as in the word loch, so definitely not a ‘k’ sound, which is what English people say. I don’t know if Aussies can manage that sort of guttural sound, it sounds a bit like you’re trying to clear your throat! Yes I am a Scot and I live in Fife, on the east coast. I hope you enjoy the rest of the book, there are plenty more to read but that’s the one I’ve enjoyed most so far.

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