35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
An unbeatable edition of stories about the unbeatable Richard Hannay!,
This review is from: The Complete Richard Hannay Stories: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr Standfast, The Three Hostages, The Island of Sheep (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
If you are reading this umming and ahhing about whether to get this copy or the more expensive one-volume edition listed on this site, then stop dithering now! The only thing the other edition has that this hasn't is a funky orange retro cover. Aside from that, this Wordsworth edition is superb, and for less than the price of a decent pint, what have you got to lose?
On the other hand, if you are new to Buchan and his great creation Hannay, let me try to convince you a little more. There's more than a whiff of the 'boy's own paper' about these stories of derring do. In large part they belong to a different age entirely, and Hannay is one of those larger than life fictional creations who embody all that confident grit and stiff-upper-lip courage that was so central to Britain's view of itself before World War Two. Indeed, these stories give you a window on a very, very different Britain. But at the core of each book is a great story. Make no mistake: these novels transcend their time.
The Thirty Nine Steps is an absolute classic, and unlike a lot of spy/ espionage novels you could mention, something actually happens in this story. In fact a whole slew of things occur and I'd go so far as to say that the whole book is a masterclass of story telling. It sees Hannay as a reluctant hero in the months leading up to WWI, but he soon rises to the challenge as he finds himself pursued up to Scotland, as the dastardly Germans try to get him before he can divulge the secret information he has suddenly come by. I still think it's the best story in this volume, but then I think it's one of the best stories from the last century.
Greenmantle is more of a 'ripping yarn' type of plot, and is altogether more fantastical. This story is set during the War itself. Hannay is taken out of his regular fighting unit and charged with undertaking a desperate mission to find out the true identity of the mysterious 'Greenmantle who, it is feared, will spearhead a Muslim uprising in the east, which the Germans will try to tap for their own ends. The story introduces a new cast of characters who crop up in later stories: ace Boer tracker Peter Pienaar, enigmatic master of disguise Sandy Arbuthnot, and the bluff but honourable American, Blenkiron. The story takes them all on a mission through the heart of Germany, central Europe and into Turkey itself. It also contains some incredible co-incidences that stretch credulity to breaking point. But what the hell. Buchan keeps you reading with his trademark enthusiasm and gusto.
Mr Standfast is also set- and like Greenmantle largely written- during WWI. It's a two-part plot, firstly concerning Hannay undercover in Scotland trying to weed out a spy who is feeding secrets to the Germans. The second half is set on the Continent, and takes us into the trenches with Hannay. I found it a bit uneven: I liked the Scottish part better than the Continental scenes, and the villain character is so much a master of disguise that I hadn't got a clue what he would look or even sound like. Anyway, he's German and dastardly, so 'nuff said.
The Three Hostages is for me the best story after The Thirty Nine Steps. Hannay is again cast as a reluctant hero, this time settled in the Cotswolds in domestic seclusion, but drawn back into a dangerous world of espionage, as he is charged with trying to rescue three hostages, with the clock winding down to the date of their death. It's a real classic, tightly plotted and tense, tense, tense. This time the villain is (ostensibly) an english gentleman. There is a German in it, but as if in recognition that he shouldn't be beastly to them all the time, Buchan makes him a thoroughly good egg. Oh yes, and the spectacular and gripping denouement is set oh so effectively again- where else?- in Scotland.
The Island of Sheep is a great way of bookending the series, concerning a thrilling case that unites figures from Hannay's past with newer acquaintances, a crazy Dane with certain important information whose life is threatened by a criminal gang, and a showdown on the eponymous island.
All in all, I read Buchan because he writes so well and knows how to plot a novel. The man is a master. My only caveat is that you may roll your eyes at some of the political attitudes on show, but that's no reason to shun Buchan the writer or the characters he created. It's just part of the mindset of the time. What is paramount, however, is Buchan's greatness as a writer, his love of language and a good yarn, and his humanity.