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on 8 June 2012
Nobody hooked on political correctness should read this book. Buchan was a man of his time, who had lost school friends and colleagues to World War one's muddy and bloody trenches. In an Intelligence job, mainly behind the lines, he was fated to observe the chaos and gather far too much information for his peace of mind. 'Mr Standfast' is, to some degree, a tribute to and a memorial for his dead comrades, particularly one, a great flyer.

The plot is picaresque like those of his earlier novels, in that our hero travels widely in search of culprits and solutions... as always, the landscape is a character whose contours and weather are vital to events. Those who have read earlier books will be glad to meet again old friends and encounter new, vividly created enemies. Hannay never fools himself that he alone can save mankind. He is brave, bright most of the time but all too conscious of his failings. Unlike some 'heroes', he does not regard his heart as a failing. He shows compassionate respect for the common people, whatever their nationality, and is not ashamed of his grief for the fallen, not afraid to change his mind. For instance, he comes to respect a pacifist he begins by despising, and learns to accept as a valued comrade the girl he falls in love with, as well as the partner of his dreams. Remember, this book was written during the Great War, a decade before a fearful British government gave its women had the Vote but while the British army was observing their courage as nurses in the field.

Be warned: the writing is powerful and graphic. Buchan did not believe that most people are basically good: he believed that most are too over-worked, uninformed, stupid or lazy-minded to care. He believed that those who plot and order indiscriminate slaughter, ruthlessly lusting after personal power and wealth, are evil, and he has no qualms about killing off such characters.

This is tough reading that may upset 21st C liberals, but the good news is that a century on, it is still re-printed, still widely read. It may upset tyrants too, if they weren't all convinced they were God.
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on 25 November 2016
This book came on 23/11 and is not a disappointment, in fact I am thoroughly enjoying such a 'ripping yarn' ! A very good read.
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on 31 July 2012
Buchan's style is typical of the time (1918) but the plot relies too much on that happy coincidence to save our hero every time. The story line therefore becomes too incredible to keep the modern readers attention. He is however good at describing the Front and aerial combat with the dreaded Hun.
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on 12 September 2011
Mr Standfast is the third of the five Richard Hannay novels and is very much a First World War book. It is 1917 and Hannay has by now become a General, and is at the Front. The War is grinding on and the Allies fear a last, massive, German push. With the war very much in the balance Hannay is summoned back to London to be told of a German spy ring, headed by a superspy, that threatens to tip that balance in Germany's favour. The superspy is a man so intelligent, so cunning and so deeply undercover that Allied Intelligence has been running at least several steps behind him. Hannay is entrusted with the task of infiltrating and breaking the ring, which Intelligence believes is rooted in the anti-war movement, consisting of conscentious objectors, Communists and Trades Unionists. Hannay joins the anti-war ranks and finds himself in a highly dangerous and, to him, alien world. The action takes place all over Europe, but includes the West Coast and Highlands of Scotland, Switzerland, and the Front itself. The book was published in 1919, and it helps to have more than a passing knowledge of the First World War to really get the most from the story and the sentiments behind it. Likewise, as the book contains characters such as the American, Blenkiron, and the South African, Pienaar, from previous Hannay adventures, it helps to have read them. I found "Mr Standfast" to be an excellent read. Belief does have to be suspended at times, but the pace of the narrative and its insights into the late World War I period make it a cracking read. Oh, and there's time for a love interest too.
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VINE VOICEon 26 July 2013
Courageous, dedicated, stoic and loyal, Richard Hannay has all the attributes of a perfect spy; He does, however, have a potentially fatal flaw in the role : wherever he goes, in Germany, Scandanavia, occupied France, a deserted cave in the Scottish Highlands, in whatever disguise or role he is in, Hannay is guaranteed to meet someone he knows. So, in this book, Hannay, in the guise of a book salesman, is travelling by train through rural Scotland. He tells us "just after dawn...we halted at a little junction...in that clean, bare, chilly place there was only one traveller....to my amazement I recognised him..."Archie" I cried..." (p142) This kind of thing happens to our hero at every turn, we must conclude he has the widest circle of friends ever.

These narrative short cuts are typical of John Buchan, who is happy to skip over tedious explanatory passages to reach the mano a mano clashes and struggles against Nature that he finds interesting. And, to be fair, no one is better at these sporting challenge style adventures.

World War One, aka the War to End Wars, has a rich literary tradition, both contemporary authors and writers working after the War have left a contemplative and generally pacifist or Anti-War legacy. Owen, Sassoon and the other War Poets paint a defiantly anti-heroic picture of the conflict, even the arch-establishment figure of Kipling, suffered personal loss and was moved to write "If any question why we died, tell them that our fathers lied." In more modern times, "Oh What A Lovely War", "Goodbye To All That", "Gallipoli", "Warhorse", "Blackadder Goes Forth" and many more works feature The Great War as an example of the futility of War itself.

The opposite view, supportive of the War, seems to have left much less of a legacy. Biggles, Bulldog Drummond and other patriotic heroes seem to have little relevant to say to modern ears. And so, what of Richard Hannay, war hero, and full-blooded supporter of the War effort? In this book, (and in "Greenmantle" the preceding volume of Hannay's adventures) we see Hannay working as an espionage agent and, more briefly, a high ranking officer during a period of fighting. To a modern reader Buchan's casual acceptance of the rightness of the British position is jarring; We are used to a more nuanced treatment of political situations today, shades of grey not simple black and white. It is, perhaps, worth remembering that John Buchan was a professional propogandist, it was, in a way, his job to present the war as just.

Given Buchan's job, it is unsurprising to see such characters as Launcelot Wake (the least-likely name imaginable for a conscientious objector)a pacifist who manages to be a useful part of the War effort without compromising his principles. Less forgiveable is the character of Mary, Hannay's love interest, who, despite having a genuine and valuable role as a spy, is rather underused and becomes little more than a hostage. Continually described as being like a child or a boy, Mary is not a feminist icon.

Always a master storyteller, Buchan ends this sometimes meandering yarn with a cracking description of an aerial dual between Peter Pienaar , Hannay's old comrade in arms, and the German air ace Lensch. This dog-fight is given a mythic dimension as well as a great practical importance but most of all is moving, the reader is allowed to share Hannay's emotions as he watches his best friend risk all for the cause. All this proves that it is quite possible for great writing to be created supporting any viewpoint, as long as it is a view the author believes in.
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