Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Richard Hannay Spy Stories by John Buchan

Recently I went on a binge rereading the first three spy novels about "everyman" spy Richard Hannay. Then I plunged ahead into the remaining two, which were just as good as the first three.

These are real page turners. It never takes long after beginning one of them before I am finding every spare moment to read the next part of the story. Author John Buchan also has a wonderful way of describing surroundings so that you might feel yourself there. It all adds to the atmosphere and sense of journeying along with our hero.

If you've never read them, or never pursued Hannay's adventures past the first novel, you are missing some great reading.

He has been feeling bored with London life - until he discovers a dead man in his flat, skewered to the floor with a knife through his heart. Only a few days before, the victim had warned him of an assassination plot that could bring the country to the brink of war.

An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the murderer, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland. There, on the wild moors, he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game - and warn the government of the impending danger before it is too late...
You may know this from the early Alfred Hitchcock film but the film was a loose adaptation. This was a quick read (made more so by the fact that I was pulled through at breakneck speed by the plot), especially in terms of today's gigantic best sellers, but extremely satisfying and riveting.


Having been fighting in WWI, Richard Hannay is called back to London to hear the proposition of the official who helped him in the affair of The 39 Steps. It is a spy mission during which, he is told, he will almost certainly die, will probably have to journey to Turkey, and to which there are only three words as a clue. Of course, he steps up and accepts the mission.

I wound up liking this book much more than I thought I would. It was interesting watching Hannay gather a team together and then seeing their undercover investigations move them far apart and bring them together with surprising results.

Richard Hannay is again recalled from active service in WWI to undertake a secret mission. Disguised as a pacifist, roaming England incognito to investigate a German spy and his agents, Hannay must uncover a fiendish plot which would decisively turn the tide of the war in favor of the Germans.

The title refers to a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, to which there are many other references in the novel; Hannay uses a copy of Pilgrim's Progress to decipher coded messages and letters from his contacts.
This book managed to have all the elements I enjoyed in the first two — the solo agent on the run, the puzzling out of spy plans and mysteries, and the relationships between team members in service of the country and cause they love so much.

I loved this, except for the final two chapters which had much more detail about WWI battles than I cared for. Even those were worth reading, though, to discover the fate of the ultimate villain (and he is one bad guy) and for the fate of Mr. Standfast.

After WWI Richard Hannay has retired to the countryside with his wife and young son. News comes to him of three kidnappings and a plot of political and financial magnitude that would shake the world. Hannay abandons his idyll to counter the threat, and the adventure takes him from the high society of 1920's London to a gripping climax in the wild Scottish Highlands where he meets his most formidable enemy yet.
Unlike previous books, Hannay finds out the villain early on (and we realize it even earlier, leading to a good amount of tension as we worry about his growing friendship with the man). Hannay must play a cat and mouse game as he looks for three kidnapped people, staying close to someone he despises, pretending to be a doglike admirer. That goes very much against Hannay's character.

I was delighted to see his wife playing an intelligent, active role as she did in the previous book, and other good friends from the past are in the story too.


Twelve years after The Three Hostages Richard Hannay is in his fifties and feeling like a has-been. He is recalled to action by an old oath to protect the son of a man he once knew. A gang of vicious blackmailers have targeted the son and Hannay and his old comrades take on the challenge of shaking off the rust to come to his aid.

I especially like the fact that Hannay's son, 14-year-old Peter John, seems to be a chip off the old block, taking on danger to protect others, teaming up with the 13-year-old daughter of the blackmailer's target to provide unexpected resources.

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