Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: The Richard Hannay Novels by John Buchan

The Story: A British secret agent has several wild adventures during World War I and in the following years. This exuberant series influenced later spy novels and thrillers.

My Thoughts: Despite it having a good premise and some good scenes, I didn’t find the first book, The Thirty-Nine Steps, to be particularly memorable overall. It feels more like a series of good scenes than a well-plotted book, but because so many of the scenes are so entertaining in and of themselves, I decided to try the next book, in the hope that it would have better plotting. (Note: There's little resemblance between this book and the Alfred Hitchcock film version.)

I found book two, Greenmantle, to be a bit better plotted than the first, though still suffering from the problem of individual scenes being far better than the book as a whole. I almost gave up after this book, since it gave me the impression that John Buchan was an adequate adventure novelist, but not someone to spend time reading when I could be reading better authors. I’d bought a volume that contained all five Richard Hannay books, however, so I decided to give Buchan one last chance by reading the third book, and I’m glad I did.

Book three, Mr. Standfast, finally pairs Buchan’s knack for memorable scenes and interesting characters with a solid, well-paced plot. The result is an excellent thriller. It’s slightly overlong, but it’s so much fun that I hardly noticed the excessive length. For those who like old-fashioned action novels, it’s well worth reading.

Book four, The Three Hostages, upholds the high standards of the third book. If you liked the third book in spite of it being too long, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like this one, where slight overlength is again its only notable flaw. If, however, you thought the third book dragged on too much, then you may feel the same about this one.

Book five, The Island of Sheep, is great for the first half, just like books three and four. In the second half, however, it loses its way, reminding me of the shaky plotting in the first two books. Still, the individual scenes and characterizations are as strong as ever, so it’s a pleasant end to the series, though not a particularly memorable one.

I highly recommend the third book, Mr. Standfast, to all fans of adventure and thriller novels. You don’t need to read the earlier books to understand it. If you like it, be sure to try The Three Hostages, too. And if you are especially fond of old-fashioned adventure novels, you might want to give the whole Richard Hannay series a try.

Content Overview: Some mild foul language and mild violence.

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