Greenmantle - John Buchan
Our hero Richard Hannay, recovering from a wound taken in the trenches, volunteers for an espionage assignment. His must find out more information about a suspected German plot to stir up the Middle East and break lines of communication and transportation between Great Britain and its eastern empire.
The American eccentric John Blenkiron (a master if dyspeptic spy) and school-mate Sandy Arbuthnot (a Lawrence of Arabia kind of guy) add their unique talents to the mission. Making his way to Turkey, Hannay meets his South African pard Peter, the archetypal faithful retainer and pale noble savage.
The action rocks in the old-fashioned way of an adventure story for boys from the early part of the twentieth century. Written in 1916, it suffers from both wartime xenophobia of The Enemy and misogynistic, homophobic, jinigoistic, racist asides that have become breath-taking in our year 2013. In the Sixties, I grew up in white working class suburb where the N-word was flung about freely, but even I had to roll my eyes when the hero finished a work-out and observed, “I felt like a white man again.”
Making allowances for unfortunate attitudes of the past, I would say that of the five Hannay novels, Greenmantle is the best one, slightly edging the better-known The Thirty-Nine Steps. It is certainly better than Mr. Standfast, which is flawed in execution, and way better than the nearly worthless The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep.