Quick return to my childhood yesterday, when I read John Buchan's thriller, Greenmantle. We read this in school when I was about 12, taken through it by an engaging English teacher ("Gus" to us, though I can no longer remember his real name) with a short temper, a limp, and a wonderful sense of boys. He had fought in Gambia during the war, and he taught us hockey, very well indeed.
Greenmantle is, of course, completely out of date in lots of ways - published in 1916, it is very anti-German and is politically incorrect in spades, though with a redeeming sense of innocence and wonder about it too. It's what Buchan himself called a "shocker", an extremely unlikely tale, with a strong plot and an assured outcome, with heroism and sacrifice, but also a lot of luck and a lot of cliches! I enjoy Buchan from time to time, and it's fascinating how the main thread of this book is of a resurgent Islam (in Turkey, in this case), utterly different from the present political issues, as for Buchan the worry was of a German inspired rebellion against the British rule in Egypt and East Africa, and the greatest threat was of Germany gaining a route to Baghdad and on to India.
Greenmantle is one of the Richard Hannay novels, which start with The 39 Steps, and it's the one which introduces the patience playing American, Blenkiron. It's not, however, the best -that accolade must go to Mr Standfast, in which Hannay finds love, and loses his closest companion - a psychological counterpoint which would offer a rich field for psychoanalysis if anyone still believed in it.
Buchan is an interesting man - he was a soldier and administrator first, a prolific author, of border history, novels, and tales of the supernatural, and he ended as Governor-General of Canada. Canada is the locus of his most affecting novel, Sick Heart River, which is genuinely moving. But his heart is in Scotland, and the novel which is the most fun, especially for a lover of the Scottish hills, is John McNab - I recommend it all who love a good yarn and the the wide open heather.