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on 26 April 2013
Had to remind myself of the period in which this was written - things have changed so much. However I wouldn't have missed it for the world - great plot and good boy's own type adventure, which could appeal to many who might have only read 39 Steps.
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on 24 April 2015
To read, his books are usually a good read
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on 13 September 2016
I am glad to have returned to John Buchan.
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on 6 August 2015
It was of its time, and the times in which Buchan lived were very different from the early 21st century. Terms of everyday use then are now seen as racist, although that pejorative is now overused to the point of tedium in these PC days when few say what they think without passing it through a set of "acceptability filters" first.

That's not what irks me about this book. It's not the Boys' Own dialogue (which is just ridiculous) - it's the ludicrous plot device that Buchan used and used and used again. I mean the completely unlikely coincidental meetings that his books are peppered with. And the overwritten passages where for example mother-Mary becomes a sort of metaphorically-glowing St Joan/Earth Mother figure who quells the arch villain with a simple subterfuge.

The main plot line of hypnotic brainwashing is employed in a very thin and unskilled fashion here, and the odd lack of security practised by the villains with the "hostages" is just - stupid. No ultrabaddy would have conducted things this way. And no able hero of the sort that Hannay's supposed to be would have been so ultra-stupid as to have mistaken the ammunition in his pocket the way this silly story suggests happened. I've been an active fieldsportsman for much of my adult life and no shooter known to me would have left without checking his ammunition first - especially when using a different rifle from the previous outing. It just wouldn't wash.

So - Buchan's using such a plot hinge-pin is to either illustrate his ignorance of sporting shooter good practice - or to insult his readership, possibly seen as mostly townies not versed in such stuff.

One way or another, this book fails to convince of its author's authority re his subject matter, and hence of the story's ability to carry along the reader - well, this reader anyway. Having said these things, the depiction of the hills and crags in the final chapter was convincing enough to sound like Buchan had indeed been in and around highland country on many an occasion. This was the most believable section of the book, spoilt as it was by the silly human actions plastered onto this spectacular backdrop.

The plot stalls at several points and the book becomes hard work when these measureless-feeling areas arrive. And a point I'm only aware of now is that these books might be more interesting if the main character was Arbuthnot rather than the extremely dull R.Hannay whose character seems to be still within the behaviour-bounds of whatever public school he'd been sent to, his thought processes and language betray his schoolboyishness all too often.

Read it if you must, but don't expect too much.
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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.
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on 12 February 2011

`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
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