The action in this book takes place before Britain enters World War I. Richard Hannay is living a quiet life in London, and is very, very bored. He has left behind a more exciting life in South Africa. A mysterious man named Scudder enters his flat and requests that he be able to stay with Hannay for a few days, telling him about a plot to assassinate a foreign official who will be visiting soon. The man ends up dead, and Hannay is determined to follow through and get the information he has gleaned from this stranger to the right authorities. He is motivated somewhat by fear that he will be blamed for Scudder's death but he seems brave, although not sure of his abilities to avoid being captured by the enemy. He also has been taught well about how to blend in and appear to be what he is not.
Peter once discussed with me the question of disguises, and he had a theory which struck me at the time. He said, barring absolute certainties like fingerprints, mere physical traits were very little use for identification if the fugitive really knew his business. He laughed at things like dyed hair and false beards ...
If a man could get into perfectly different surroundings from those in which he had been first observed, and - this is the important part - really play up to these surroundings and behave as if he had never been out of them, he would puzzle the cleverest detectives on earth.I found it problematic that things go too well for him and he never seems to be in real danger. Yet I was still entertained. His self-doubt and deprecation were appealing compared to the heroes of some current action thrillers.
Although I read a lot of vintage crime fiction, I do have a bias against reading really old books (late 19th century or early 20th century) because of stereotypes and the lack of good female characters in general. Yet having decided to read the book, I tried to not to judge it by the standards of today's writing. I was bothered (and surprised) that only men really figured in this story. Women characters featured only briefly and just as helpers to get him on his way. This is a major difference from the 1935 Hitchcock adaptation, but the book was probably more realistic.
There are many resources online regarding John Buchan's books and his life. Here are some I found of interest:
- An article at the Daily Mail Online by John Buchan's grandson
- Reviews at Reactions to Reading, Pining for the West, and Past Offences
- A post on a stage version of the book at Col's Criminal Library
Publisher: Popular Library, 1963. Orig. pub. 1915.
Length: 142 pages
Series: Richard Hannay, #1
Setting: UK, Scotland
Genre: Adventure, spy thriller
Source: Purchased my copy.