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.