Thursday, September 29, 2016

At My Leisure: "Greenmantle" by John Buchan

At My Leisure: Greenmantle by John Buchan, 1916 (Project Gutenberg e-edition from 2008 and updated 2013), no ISBN.

I don't like carrying books around. A novel is one more thing to carry and I'll usually lose the bookmark.  But, I often find myself waiting around somewhere with nothing to do but bore myself on my computer-box-pocket-telephone. Monkeying on the internet with a 3.5" diagonal screen is a drag.  What's more, my data service can be real sketchy. "Hey," I thought to myself "why not load a book onto my phone? Maybe some poetry or short stories so I won't forget characters and plot because of infrequent reading."

So, since someone on Forgotten Books mentioned that you can download all the John Buchan novels I figured I would do so. Getting the files to work on my stupid, damnable, rotten, no-good handheld magic box device took a while.

Set mid-war in 1916 or so and Richard Hannay has been in the English countryside recuperating from war wounds after his service in France with the British infantry. Hannay gets a cable from Sir Henry Bullivant. Hannay worked with Bullivant in 39 Steps and Bullivant calls on Hannay to help with an undercover mission. The ever energetic upper-class Hannay takes the challenge to go to the Middle East and discover the secrets behind a German plot to expand and win the war there.

The German plan is still a secret with only a couple clues to Hannay to go on. Hannay is paired with an American, Blenkiron, and a British Army officer named Sandy who happens to be Hannay's pal.

All three men are to travel separately to Turkey and rendezvous in Istanbul (Constantinople?). Hannay decides to go to Portugal, pretend to be a Limey hating South African, then take another ship north to land in Germany and then travel south to Turkey. On board his ship to Portugal Hannay meets a good friend from South Africa and persuades the man to join him.

They get to Germany and declare to be of help to the Krauts. They are shuttled about until taken up by a German Officer who is suspicious of the two but brings them along to test their loyalty.

Anyhoo. Many things happen. This novel is much like The 39 Steps because it's mostly a long chase. Hannay pretends to be someone else, uses his wits to lie, flees on foot and car and boat, and talks his way through tight spots. Once Hannay gets to Turkey Buchan starts to tell more of the plot which concerns a secret Muslim prophet the Germans plan to use as a human guidon and lead the Muslim populations of the Middle East to run over the Russians and English.

Hannay meets up with his fellow spies. Hannay meets the German femme fatale in charge of the German operation. Hannay and Co. are found out, flee, and steal a map showing the German positions and battle plans against the Russkies. Hannay and Co. head East and South to escape Femme Fatale and hook up with the Russian Army.

Everything ends well. Accept for the bad guys.

1. As I mentioned above this book is all about The Chase. The plot about using the Muslim Avenger is interesting but kinda half-baked. Buchan just uses that as an excuse for the adventure.
2. Even though he regularly faces death Hannay still sometimes treats things like a boyhood lark.
3. This came out in 1916 and Hannay has high patriotism even after fighting in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front. He misses and mourns his dead colleagues in France but is determined to win out over the Huns.
4. I mentioned in my previous notes about 39 Steps how that novel was widely read in the trenches. It's plot gave a fictional explanation about how such a massive and destructive war could begin. I imagine Greenmantle gave similar succor in the midst of the war: Hannay as an dedicated infantry officer who takes on a highly risky mission on the chance on dealing a major blow to the Germans.
5. "Succor" is a weird word. If we had an O.E.D. here I would look it up.

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