RogerBW's Blog

Mr Standfast, John Buchan 28 August 2017

1919 thriller, third of Buchan's books about Richard Hannay; wartime thud-and-blunder. Hannay has to go undercover among the pacifists and conscientious objectors to root out a German agent.

The portrayal of those objectors and anti-war types in general has all the grace and subtlety one might expect from someone who worked at the War Propaganda Bureau and was later promoted to head its offshoot the Department of Information. Hannay is never in doubt that the war is an utterly necessary thing, and carries this on to the idea that any suggestion that the British leadership is in any way less than entirely right is in itself defeatist and treasonous. The Germans are of course bad and treacherous and need to be taught a good hard lesson so that they'll never do it again; there's not even the slight sympathy for the Kaiser seen in Greenmantle.

After some essentially unproductive time sneering at the conchies, Hannay follows one of the suspected agents to Scotland, and we get one of Buchan's classic stalks across wild country; he really is at his best here, getting away from Hannay's utter failure to understand people who aren't like him and into the natural, or at least the lightly-built, world.

After that it's back to London, via one of those "every man's hand against him" chases that Buchan also does well. Unfortunately Hannay's skills as an undercover operator consist mostly of serendipity. Coincidence is piled on coincidence as Hannay repeatedly picks, more or less at random, the exact place to be where he'll happen to observe the next stage of the plot or get some necessary aid. This was a bit bad in Greenmantle, and here it feels as though all Hannay's character points have gone on Serendipity and he's just getting the GM to feed him what he needs rather than doing any of the hard work himself.

There's a love-interest for Hannay, though her main positive attributes appear to be being "child-like" and "like a slim boy". On the other hand she seems rather more competent at the actual business of intelligence work than Hannay himself.

A near-final section involving a desperate drive across the Alps, then a more desperate walk back again, would be excellent if it weren't so blatantly set up to provide the action scenes. Based on the information Hannay has when he sets out, he'd do much better to lay an ambush at the place which he knows the bad guy is certain to come back to… but instead he chases him, futilely, and wears himself out when in fact his allies had quietly got everything sorted and he was basically superfluous to the whole business.

That's where the book should have ended, but Buchan remembers that there's an actual war on, and sets up Hannay in charge of a desperate resistance to a final German offensive in France. This heavy-handedly foreshadows, then provides, the death of a particular character (boivbhfyl qrngu vf orggre guna univat n jrnxrarq yrt gung zrnaf lbh pna'g enzoyr sbe qnlf ng n gvzr) but if the book had ended a few chapters earlier it really wouldn't have hurt things.

For me this is a pretty dismal failure; Buchan does the things he's good at better in other books, with less of the things he's bad at. Followed by The Three Hostages.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gin gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1