Monday, August 12, 2013

"One wants something to engross the attention without tiring the mind."

Three of John Buchan's Richard Hannay adventures are available, free, at ManyBooks.net: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), Greenmantle (1916), and Mr Standfast (1919). The only one missing is The Three Hostages.

A former head of MI-5 had this to say about "John Buchan and The Thirty-Nine Steps":
.... He (Buchan) was convinced that civilisation’s crust was thin; that hard and cynical men, operating on a global scale, were using liberal sentimentality as a stalking horse for activities which could eventually derail liberal institutions. He was not alone in thinking and warning about that, and there are many even today who would agree with him.

Against those nightmarish possibilities, Buchan champions the things he thinks best in British civilisation – education, gentlemanly and ladylike conduct, honesty, an adventurous questing, a self-sacrificing spirit and plenty of fresh air, long walks and cold baths. Could it be that these unfashionable virtues are what accounts for his enduring appeal?

The Thirty-Nine Steps introduces the reader to Richard Hannay, a man of action who puts his own safety second to the safety of his country. Hannay’s activities incorporate much of Buchan’s own experiences. ....

All the Hannay books involve a chase across wild country with the life of the hero and/or the villain at stake. And what villains they are. In addition to their strange eyes and penchant for libraries, they share an insatiable greed for power, a near-hypnotic control of large numbers of bad men and a kind of magical immunity, right up to the moment the end comes. ....

Buchan’s technique as a writer is simple enough and well displayed in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He understood that in a thriller, as opposed for example to a detective story, what matters above all is to keep the reader focused on what is going to happen next, irrespective of where things may end up. And also to keep him convinced that what he is reading here and now could really happen. ....

The Thirty-Nine Steps is more like a series of exciting episodes strung end to end than a carefully plotted tale. The speed is breathtaking, with each successive scene gripping the reader’s imagination, and with every place, actor and motive indelibly sketched.

It doesn’t matter that the reader has no clue where he is being taken or, when he gets there, how the thing happened as it did. All that matters is that once you’ve started, you can’t put the book down.

Buchan wrote in his autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, that he had no purpose in shocker writing except to please himself. Nevertheless, he must have been delighted to learn that The Thirty-Nine Steps had greatly pleased one important section of his contemporary readership. An officer at the Front in the First World War wrote: “It is just the kind of fiction for here. One wants something to engross the attention without tiring the mind. The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.” ....
The free ebooks by John Buchan are here formatted for a variety of e-readers including Kindle.