Thursday, September 7, 2023

Mr. Standfast

I think it was one of my high school English teachers who suggested that I might enjoy John Buchan's thrillers. I'm sure the first I read was The Thirty-Nine Steps. I've enjoyed all of Buchan's books that I've read, although accommodation must sometimes be made for prejudices I do not share. When I was trying to come up with an email address years ago my eyes fell on the spine of this book, thus "mrstandfast."  I later learned that Buchan was also enjoyed by C.S. Lewis and his brother. From a description of the book at the site of the John Buchan Society:
With The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) and Greenmantle (1916) this novel makes the third of a trilogy on aspects of the First World War. Buchan’s History of the War afforded him inside knowledge that fed his novels with realism, to which he added the spice of imagination. (In 1917 he was Director of the Department of Information, in 1918 Director of Intelligence in the Ministry of Information.)

His tale moves swiftly. The scene changes purposefully through London, a fictional Home Counties location, Glasgow, the Highlands and Islands, and Switzerland to prepare the way for a climax in the great German offensive of March 1918 – Ludendorff’s last, almost successful gambler’s throw.

Buchan’s description of the accompanying artillery barrage is ominously and compellingly realistic: you hear the low thunder of the encroaching guns. And the allied trenches provide a dramatic setting for the death of the spy hunted by Richard Hannay and his little team of counterspies.

The threat from pacifism which was a genuine feature of the war years gives the spy his cover; there is a space for Red Clydeside; the submarine menace is used in an unexpected way; some Highland local colour is apt for the period but also for the people described; and generally the characters present a wide spectrum of wartime life.

Hannay has something of the now conventional amateur who beats the professionals at their own game. .... (more)
Mr Standfast is in the public domain in the US and can be read here. It is also in print.

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