August 27, 2003

Greenmantle, by John Buchan

I read this while spending the week in a cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin. Just before leaving I finished the first book in the series (The Thirty Nine Steps) and, luckily, had the foresight to buzz over to the bookstore to pick this one up. It was all they had by Buchan so I consider myself lucky, I guess.

This is a spy thriller published in 1916. Richard Hannay is recovering from wounds he received in action on the front when he gets a telegram from a high placed person in the Foreign Office. A spy sent into the Mid East has returned bullet-ridden and on the verge of death. Three mysterious words are scribbled on a sheet of paper he holds and are thought to hold the key to the German plan to dominate the area. A revival of Islam in its fundamentalist form is also brewing in the area and could possibly unite the area against the Allied forces. Richard Hannay is asked to go into the area and find out what the words mean. He's given a couple of fellow spies to work with as well. Blenkiron is an American with an uncanny ability to toady up to anyone and, being American and officially neutral at this point in the war, can get into the Germans good graces. Sandy, a young aristocrat who had spent time before the war wandering the area and learning all the languages, making friends and generally gaining a pile of useful contacts will help with the locals. They meet and decide to split up until they can meet on the appointed day in Constantinople. And that's when all the real action begins.

From the perspective of 2003 the book has some problems. The unqualified racism is a little appalling. Normally, I can shunt aside my modern sensibilities and get on with the story but it was just a tad more than I am comfortable with, even when reading a story written nearly 100 years ago. And then, it was written so long ago so when compared to the modern thriller with its over-dependence on guns and gizmos it moved just a little slowly at times.

However, with that said, I enjoyed it. There were a couple scenes that had me mentally on the edge of my seat and the end was pretty dramatic in the telling. The bad guys were really, really bad and the Hannay just escapes by his wits and a little luck. I enjoyed it enough to hunt for the rest of the books in the series Buchan wrote about Hannay.

Posted by Deb English at August 27, 2003 02:13 PM

Will Duquette said:

Interestingly, the Germans really did try to dominate the Middle East by fomenting an Islamic revival. The Russians tried it, to, between the World Wars. See Peter Hopkirk's books, Setting the East Ablaze and Like Hidden Fire.

Deb said:

It doesn't surprise me. While my knowledge of fundamentalist Islam is pretty sketchy, it seems like the folks in that part of the world have been battling away over territory since, well, Old Testament days. I'll check out the books next time I'm in The Large Chain Bookstore! You reviewed one of them a while back, right?

Will Duquette said:

Hop over to our Peter Hopkirk page, and you can find all my reviews to date.