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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of its time, but neither archaic nor obsolete, 28 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Greenmantle (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
Greenmantle, written and first published during the First World War, takes us on a contemporary journey to Lisbon and then through Holland and Germany to the Danube and east to Constantinople and beyond as far as the Euphrates. Trench warfare in Belgium and France was ongoing, the Gallipoli disaster very recent, and the Russians (still under the Tsar) were putting German directed Ottoman forces under much pressure south of the Caucuses. Given that the action was ongoing, it is surprising how frank this novel is about the stalemate on the western front, the magnitude of the casualties, and that it had been necessary to withdraw from the Gallipoli peninsula. That the novel is nevertheless gung ho in its attitude towards war - all an extension of fox hunting, really - and indulges in unflattering caricatures of Germans and Turks need not in the circumstances surprise us at all. The greater surprise is that there are also examples of both that are much more sympathetically drawn.

John Buchan gives his hero Richard Hannay (The Thirty-Nine Steps) a new assignment. Called to Whitehall when nearing the end of recuperation following a wound received at Loos, he is instructed by Foreign Office mandarin Sir Walter Bullivant to pick-up the threads of an intelligence investigation in Istanbul. Those threads are fragmentary in the extreme, but are believed to be key to Germany's plans to achieve dominance in the Middle East and beyond. That indeed proves the case and, having solved the initial puzzle, Hannay goes on to do his best to frustrate the German war effort in Turkey, at great risk to himself and the several collaborators he has acquired.

Greenmantle is a fine example of an adventure that moves at considerable speed through varying terrain. It gives readers a vicarious experience of the various places visited, of troop trains, of how the Danube river barges worked, and some insight into the construction of trenches, barbed wire entanglements and how field guns are used. As a spy drama set in hostile territory, there are obvious comparisons to be made with the much later James Bond novels and a particular delight in Greenmantle is Buchan's prototype for Rosa Klebb, Hilda von Einem, drawn by Buchan with considerable care.
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