Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Months to Finish: "Mr. Standfast" by John Buchan

Months to Finish: Mr Standfast by John Buchan, 1919, downloaded off Project Gutenberg.

I downloaded this onto my old, broken phone several months ago. I would read the book when I had to sit around or stand in line somewhere. Fortunately I was using Google Books and able to finish the book after buying the replacement mobile phone.

It's late 1917, and into 1918 I think, and Richard Hannay has worked his way up the ranks of the British Army and is now a General. Hannay is in England recovering from injuries when the spymaster from the previous two novels recruits Hannay for more work.

Hannay goes undercover as a anti-war protester up north. He's not too keen on the anti-war angle but takes the job on. His task is to help discover the men behind a spy ring operating out of Northern England and Scotland. He heads north under an assumed name, works with a couple men involved with British intelligence and meets stunning young woman, Mary. It turns out Mary is his contact. Hannay is hot for Mary.

Things happen with Hannay going north to Scotland trying to track the spies. He walks and boats around Scotland. He also gets pursued by the police - gee, what a surprise, Buchan rehashes the same damn chases as the past two books. Hannay finds out how messages are leaving Scotland for Germany. Hannay use The Pilgrim's Progress as a cypher for secret spy messages.

He meets up once again with the American, Blenkiron. He thinks fondly of his long time Boer friend, Peter, who was captured by the Germans when his Royal Flying Corps plane was shot down.  Hannay figures out who the bad guy is. The same guy from Book #1 who is a master of disguise and fools anyone. But, Hannay sees Bad Guy in a fevered panic when hidding in the London Underground during a bombing raid. Hannay says he can never be fooled by Bad Guy's disguises after seeing Bad Guy emotionally stripped down by terror.

Hannay finishes his job, returns to London, and then leaves for the Western Front. Hannay fights in France for several months as spy stuff and general dirty deeds go on without him. But, Hannay serendipitously runs across information and gives it to his handlers. Hannay is recruited again to join the spy fight.

More things happen. Hannay works with Belnkiron. Hannay and Mary make goo-goo eyes at one another. Hannay takes manly risks. Hanny is loyal to the England. Hannay is very English in general.

More things happen again and Hannay travels in France, Switzerland and Italy and then finally - FINALLY - the novel ends after a big multi-army battle in France.

This was an okay novel. My interest is in seeing things from someone in 1919. Hannay's views on politics, war, social behavior, etc. The book is really two novels in one. The first part is the Scotland escapade with sleuthing and escapes. The second half is more spy and war stuff in France and Switzerland.

1. More "No Girls Allowed Club" stuff. Hannay is in his forties and has spent little to no time with women. You wonder about the author and the audience. Was it manly to be with manly man? Or, was it kinda gay?  The entire series has felt like the nonstop adventures of a latent homosexual. Dick goes after manly pursuits and manly doings: mining engineer, big game hunter, explorer, spy, soldier. Kinda like he's avoiding women to hang out with dudes.
2. It reminds me of an SNL sketch with Michael Palin. I looked the episode up and it was from Season 4, episode 18. The sketch was "Miles Cowperthwaite, Part Two: I Am Nailed to the Hull," As I recall, Palin is a young, upper-class man captured by pirates. The pirates are manly pirates who are most concerned with manly doings. After capturing Cowperthwaites ship they only seem concerned with whether there are any equally manly men are on the captured ship.
3.  When Dick and Mary do come together it is instant love. They immediately want to spend their lives together and a marriage proposal is a formality. It's goofy. Buchan has no interest in creating a romance. After two novels with no women he must have needed one here.
4.  Dick has this unsettling paternal view of Mary. He describes her in child like terms and refers to her schoolboy mannerisms during dinner. Mary is a child and he will be her owner - er, I mean protective companion. There is no lust here.
5. Hannay maintains a chivalric view of soldiering.  You live through the Somme and don't want to shoot a German in the back?  Yeah. Right.
6. So very preachy at times. How Germans are not original thinkers. How being a 'businessman' does not automatically make you smart (I do agree with that). The purity of women. Left winger anti-war guys with plenty of speeches and no clue. Lots of period views on people and culture that make for interesting reading.
7. Pilgrim's Progress is discussed several times by the characters. I was thinking I should try reading Progress and decided absolutely no. The books sounds horribly boring and preachy. Which is a little ironic because I, too, can be horribly boring and preachy.

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