John Macnab by John Buchan

 John Macnab cover

John Macnab by John Buchan was published by Chambers Journal in 1924, I’m presuming that it was published in weekly parts there as it was apparently published as a book in 1925. I read this one for The 1924 Club which is being run by Simon@ Stuck in a Book

John Buchan is of course known for his tales of adventure, sort of adult versions of ‘Boys’ Own Adventure’ books and John Macnab is no different, except you could say it’s multiplied by three as there are three men being hunted down in the Scottish Highlands.

The tale begins in London in midsummer where a successful man has gone to see his doctor because he has lost his zest for life. He’s a successful lawyer with no money worries and he’s just bored out of his skull. His doctor advises him to do something quite outrageous for a man in his position, to pull himself out of his despondency.

When he discovers that two of his friends who are equally as successful as him are also feeling exactly like him, they cook up a plan to drag themselves out of their depressive moods.

The plan involves all three gentlemen travelling to the Highlands where they intend to do some poaching on three neighbouring country estates, having sportingly informed the lairds of their intentions in a ‘catch us if you can’ way. The fact that if the men are caught it would spell disaster to their careers and reputations only adds to the adrenaline rushes.

The book is quite political really with young Janet Raden, the daughter of a laird, denouncing the status quo of forelock tugging to aristocracy in favour of a more democratic society. But the reality is that as the three men are regarded as gentlemen and they are discovered to be Old Etonians, it puts everything in a totally different light from if they had been just plain old penniless poachers. This is quite an enjoyable read but as I always seem to say when I write about a John Buchan book – it’s not as good as Greenmantle.

I suspect that one of the reasons that John Buchan wrote this one was because when he went back home to Scotland after completing his first term at Oxford his siblings were very amused that he had developed a very posh ‘Kensington’ accent, they teased him mercilessly but Buchan had obviously decided that if he wanted to get on in life he would have to pose as an upper class Englishman – thank God those days are gone! – What am I saying, just look at the UK Cabinet Members!

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan

The Island of Sheep cover

I hope to work my way through all of Buchan’s books so when I saw this one for sale in the library I snapped it up. It’s a continuation of Richard Hannay’s adventures, a good few years on from The Thirty-Nine Steps, and the now Sir Richard Hannay is married to Mary and they have a 14 year old son called Peter John.

He’s in a very comfortable rut and living a pleasant country- gentleman’s existence when the past pops up and Hannay finds himself embroiled in another adventure with his old friend Sandy, now Lord Clanroyden. Years before whilst on another jaunt in South Africa they had taken an oath to protect the explorer and prospector Haraldsen and his descendants, they hadn’t really taken it seriously at the time but when they discovered that Haraldsen’s son was being hunted down by a nasty set of characters, they feel obliged to go to his aid.

The action moves from Buchan’s beloved Scottish border country to the Norlands and The Island of Sheep (The Faroe Islands). Another enjoyable ‘Boys Own Storybook’ sort of a romp ensues.

I enjoyed this one even more than The Thirty-Nine Steps although towards the end it does feature a whaling ship and its crew, it was a surprise to me that it was sort of frowned upon, even in 1936 when the book was published.

The Power House by John Buchan

It’s week one of the year and what with having been behind schedule with War and Peace I was a wee bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete a book from my 2011 Reading List, but I managed. Well it helped that I chose a really short book to read, The Power House is just 130 pages long. First published in 1916 this is another of the many thrillers that John Buchan seems to have written for relaxation purposes and a bit of a hobby, given that he had a very high-flying career as a diplomat and ended up being given a baronetcy.

The story is set in London and Mr Leithen (I don’t think we ever find out his first name) is a Member of Parliament. He was elected in a by-election in which he was supposed to be a forlorn hope and he is still working as a criminal lawyer part-time. Leithen discovers that one of his old friends, Pitt-Heron who happens to be very wealthy, has got mixed up with a lot of strange foreign people and what had been the billiard room in his house has been turned into a laboratory.

When Pitt-Heron bolts suddenly with a large amount of gold which he has taken from his bank, his wife Ethel is at her wits’ end and Leithen and his friend Tommy try to track her husband down for her.

Buchan obviously had a thing about being hunted down because so far every book of his which I’ve read has involved a man-hunt. This one has Leithen being chased across London with people at every turn intent on grabbing him with a view to ‘doing him in’.

This book wasn’t nearly as good as Greenmantle or even The Thirty-Nine Steps, Huntingtower, or Salute to Adventurers but it’s still worthwhile reading if you’re into classic thrillers.

John Buchan
was yet another local lad, having been brought up in Kirkcaldy where his father was a minister in a church near where I live. After leaving school he went to The University of Glasgow to study Classics and went from there to Oxford.

He had a very distinguished career and became Governor General of Canada in 1935. Topically, considering that the film The King’s Speech is just about to be released, John Buchan told the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Buckingham Palace that the people of Canada would be outraged if Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson.

He was given a baronetcy in 1935 and became Lord Tweedsmuir.

I’m running out of Buchan books to read, the only one I have unread is Witch Wood.

Salute to Adventurers by John Buchan

This book was first published in 1915 and I hadn’t even heard of it before my husband pulled it out from the middle of a huge pile of books on the floor at Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop in Glasgow.

The book was republished in 2003 by The Nautical and Aviation Company of America, they have reprinted a few other Buchan books. I think they were interested in this one because it tells the story of the colonization of Tidewater, Virginia.

Andrew Garvald, a young Scottish student was walking to Edinburgh to start his studies at the university when he has the misfortune to get lost in a heavy hill fog. Despite asking for directions from a young girl (Elspeth) he gets lost again and becomes embroiled with a religious troublemaker and his followers. A troop of the King’s Dragoons rounds them all up and they end up in gaol. As the colonies were in dire need of people it was common for any miscreants to be transported to America or Australia but Andrew escapes this fate with the help of Elspeth who manages to persuade the powers that be that Andrew had nothing to do with the religious rabble.

Andrew decides to take up business in Virginia on his uncle’s behalf when he sees how some fellow Scots have prospered there. After reaching James Town he quickly discovers that the English merchants have all business opportunities tied up and everything is price fixed by them.

The book is fairly anti-English and I did wonder if that was why it was reprinted in America, I found it amusing anyway.

Determined to succeed and overcome any prejudice, Andrew comes up against various sorts of American Indians and the book becomes a boys’ adventure story.

It does has a very similar feel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing, particularly Kidnapped and Catriona, with a young man having to fight against adversity and a lot of running around on hillsides. The only difference is that heather doesn’t feature in the American landscape and it isn’t raining all the time.

I quite enjoy an old fashioned adventure story from time to time and this one is interesting because of the different setting and history.

I started reading John Buchan because his father was a minister near where I live and so he was a bit of a local lad and his sister the writer O. Douglas was born in the town.

I had no idea that he had such a high flying career until recently and it amazes me that he had any time for writing at all.

Huntingtower by John Buchan

Huntingtower was first published in 1922 and is quite different from the other Buchans which I have read (the 39 Steps and Greenmantle.) Unusually, it has a bit of romance in it. This one is set in Scotland in he spring of 1920, starting off in Glasgow and moving on to the south-west of Scotland.

Dickson McCunn has just retired from a very successful business as a grocer in Glasgow. Having sold the business he is very well off, but with his wife having a holiday at the East Neuk Hydropathic (spa), he decides to take himself off on a walking holiday in the south-west. On his wanderings he meets a young Englishman by the name of John Heritage who has been in the First World War and is now a paper maker with hopes of writing poetry. They discover that they both have a love of literature and a friendship ensues.

Meanwhile, the Gorbals Die-Hards – a gang of five young lads from Glasgow who are known to McCunn have been given some money by a well wisher so that they can go on their idea of a Boy Scout camp. They are far too poor to be able to join the real scouts as they mainly have no parents at all or are just completely neglected.

Whilst walking through a remote coastal village McCunn and Heritage discover a mystery involving the factor of the local mansion and they uncover the fact that two women are being held captive there. One of them is Saskia, a Russian princess. (Remember that this book was written not long after the Russian Revolution.) At the time there were rumours that one of the Romanov princesses had managed to escape from Ekaterinburg. There were certainly plenty of ‘white’ Russians who had escaped to other parts of Europe including Britain.

The Gorbal Die-Hards are coincidentally camping nearby and become involved in the adventure. It’s a bit like a fairy-tale for adults really.

I enjoyed this book but I think that it might be annoying for people who find reading a Scottish dialect difficult. The Gorbals Die-Hards speak in particularly broad Scots but they are the best part of the book really. There is a very good glossary at the back of the book plus copious notes.

John Buchan had been a favourite author of the Russian royal family. His previous book Greenmantle was a great hit with them. I just wonder if they managed to take a copy of it to Siberia with them.

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.