Friday, July 26, 2019

John Macnab

It's been a while since I read John Macnab but I remember it as a pleasure. I own it in an omnibus volume with Huntingtower and Three Hostages. Today, from a review of a new biography of Buchan by his grand-daughter:
John Buchan’s 1925 novel John Macnab opens with a prominent Londoner complaining to his doctor of ill health. Told there is nothing physically wrong with him, Ned Leithen insists that there is. In successful middle age, life has gotten too easy, and the good things have lost their savor. Pressed for a remedy, the doctor suggests that Leithen go “steal a horse in some part of the world where a horse-thief is usually hanged.” Scotland doesn’t hang horse thieves, but the poaching adventures that follow are an escapist delight, with something serious to say about politics, journalism, property rights and even archaeology.

Richard Hannay, the hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps and its four sequels, is Buchan’s most famous creation, but Leithen is his most autobiographical. Like his creator, Leithen is a successful lawyer and politician; a serious fly-fisherman and mountaineer; and a botanist with a taste for classical scholarship and English poetry. It’s Leithen who stars in The Power-House (serialized in 1913), the novel that kicked off Buchan’s run of “shockers”—as he called his thrillers and adventure stories. And it is Leithen who brings it to a close in Sick Heart River (1941). If Hannay is the man of empire, all blunt action and luck brought on by confidence, Leithen is the man of the capital, a power broker bent on doing good but also on escaping to the country at week’s end. ....

Buchan wrote 17 shockers, and all bear repeated reading. His historical novels have a fine feeling for olden days and for personages from Oliver Cromwell to Daniel Boone to Samuel Johnson. .... Ignore the papers and read these charming tales. Or John Macnab if you need the stronger medicine of illegally catching a salmon on a dry fly to banish ennui.

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