on 2 November 2011
It is now some five years after the end of the First World War and Hannay has settled down to a peaceful life in the country with his wife and small child. That peace is ended when he is approached by his old spymasters looking to employ Hannay's unique can-do skill-set to track down three wealthy hostages, kidknapped by a sinister and globally threatening crime organisation, headed by an undectected master criminal of immense intelligence and power. Hannay plunges into a dark world where hypnotism and brainwashing are just some of the dangers that need to be faced. Using his intuitive powers of deduction, and placing his life directly on the line, Hannay sets about discovering the identity of the master criminal and the whereabouts of the hostages. Although Hannay leads the way he is ably assisted by former wartime friends and acquaintances, including his wife. Buchan is a great adventure story teller and The Three Hostages is no exception. However, there are aspects of the book that may not sit comfortably with a modern reader. In particular, the depiction of Jewish characters may give rise to thoughts that Buchan was a racist. I explored this further via various articles and found that Buchan was, at least latterly in his life, seen as a pro-Jewish supporter. Nevertheless, the stereotypical depictions used by some of his characters in the book did make me feel uncomfortable, even allowing for the time it was written.
on 12 February 2011
A REVIEW OF `THE THREE HOSTAGES' BY JOHN BUCHAN
`The Three Hostages' (1924) is the fourth of John Buchan's five tales involving his hero and adventurer, Richard Hannay. Following on from the author's now signature-tale, `The Thirty Nine Steps' (1915) and its two sequels, `Greenmantle' (1916) and `Mr Standfast' (1918), `The Three Hostages' has three very tough acts to follow. The opening trilogy of Hannay novels is a genuine collection of classic thrillers from the first quarter of the 20th century and, with the causes and events of The Great War its theme, provided thrills-and-spills in an era of tremendous uncertainty and tension.
In many ways, `The Three Hostages' cannot fail to fall short of its predecessors. The story re-introduces the reader to an older Richard Hannay, married and the father of a young son, living on a country estate. Our hero is pulled out of retirement by his old comrade, Bullivant, asking him to help track down three missing persons: "the daughter of the richest man in the world, the heir of our greatest dukedom, [and] the only child of a national hero." After much deliberation, Hannay accepts the case and so begins the search for the missing three.
In accepting his mission, for much of the novel, Hannay plays the part of the hunter, rather than (as was so perfectly done in his first adventure) the hunted. His quest leads him to become entangled with the seemingly-perfect London MP, Dominick Medina, whose charming façade disguises a malevolent and hypnotic control over his fellow man. It is to the book's credit that Medina is undoubtedly one of Buchan's most memorable villains. His scurrilous attempts to hypnotise and control Hannay provoke the reader's dislike and dismay, but Hannay's failure/refusal to succumb to Medina's `powers' establishes the mutually dishonest relationship between the two `friends'.
This is all good fun, and `The Three Hostages' is very much a page-turner. However, as the narrative unfolds, there is much to support Hannay's characteristic self-deprecation, as he tends to stumble upon the hostages or relies upon others to locate them. Added to this weakening of his heroics, the stakes of `the game' are considerably lower than in his previous adventures. Indeed, the rounding up of a criminal gang (however devious) can hardly compare with a potential German invasion, or defeat in The First World War. Therefore, at what seems to be its logical ending, `The Three Hostages' leaves the reader with a definite hint of dissatisfaction.
However, perhaps recognising shortcomings of the central plot, Buchan then offers a final two chapters which are almost a classic thriller in themselves. With the key duel still unresolved, we are treated to an alternative Scottish hunting expedition of immense excitement and intensity. Here Hannay reverts to his more familiar role of the enemy's prey and the chase is on. The ending of `The Three Hostages' is abrupt, ironic, tragic and just. As such, it is well worth waiting for.
And so, from what (until its grand finale) was rather a tepid tale compared to its predecessors, `The Three Hostages' emerges as an unbalanced, but ultimately rewarding read. Yes, it falls short of the consistent highs of both `The Thirty Nine Steps' and `Mr Standfast' (arguably the very best of the stories). However, to underplay its qualities would be akin to dismissing The Beatles' `Let It Be' because it isn't as good as `Revolver'. Amongst the vast collection of intra-war and inter-war thrillers, `The Three Hostages' may not be the greatest, but (like a patchy music album) it can boast real flashes of greatness and certainly saves the best until last.
Barty's Score: 8.5/10
Three Hostages is, in my view, the best of John Buchan's books to feature Richard Hannay. This is a well written and thought out thriller.
However many the themes are dated today - but they do give readers a glimpse into the world and thoughts of the high Tory of the 1920-1940's that John Buchan was.
on 24 November 2014
John Buchan was certainly not the first adventure writer but he is certainly one of the most influential in the development of the genre.
One of the series of novels featuring Richard Hannay, the hero of Buchan's most famous novel "The Thirty Nine Steps." "The Three Hostages" sees Hannay unwillingly returning to action because he is moved by the plight of father of one of the hostages, a young boy. The plot moves through a conspiracy led by a charismatic socialite using hypnosis to gain control of people, a secret mission to Norway and a final show down in the Highlands.
Parts of the novel are dated and sone readers may not like the language of the times. But it is a well-written and entertaining action novel. Hannay is one of the ancestors of the much less pleasant James Bond and the fsr more violent Jack Reacher.
on 13 December 2015
This is very different from some of the previous Hannay novels in that it is an interesting attempt at examining the psychology of a ‘thoroughly bad lot’. I found it an interesting tale in the context of the uncertain historic period in which it was written – namely just after the First World War.
I enjoyed it but the means by which the villain is discovered, by blind coincidence very early on, brought a wry smile to my face. Even so, I loved the end. Hannay found himself a real cracker of a wife with a will of steel.
on 16 April 2000
This is probably the best of Buchan's works to feature Richard Hannay - never were his always formidible powers of storytelling in finer fettle. As a thriller it is deeply satisfying, with enough surprises to leave you open-mouthed every forty pages or so. It seems a pity to me, however, that these otherwise excellent Oxford editions do not deal with Buchan's politics more rigorously: for a reader in 2000 to appreciate his work, he or she must negotiate his snobbery and racism, aspects of his writing which cannot be simply dismissed as residue of his times. Buchan's prejudices are dogmatic, not accidental. However, he was a supreme storyteller, and my real reason for denying this book the fifth star is that it - like almost all of Buchan's work - could have done with a touch of humour.