Category: John Buchan

book review – The Free Fishers

If you had to summarise a John Buchan book you would use a few words including “adventure, pace and drama” and it is no different here.

But for those that loved the 39 Steps there is a slight difference in the amount of time it takes for the story to become clear and the action to get going. This is a slightly more convoluted story and it takes getting past the history of the Free Fishers group and the misunderstanding about a duel before things get going.

When they do get going this is a story about a plot to kill the prime minister and leave the finger of blame pointing at an abused woman who is too weak to fight her own corner.

Instead an odd selection of characters emerge to defend her led by the hero a professor and priest, Anthony Lammas, who manages to surprise even himself as the plot develops and the violence increases. He is supported by some of the Free Fishers as he speeds down to Norfolk to smash a gang run by a maverick nobleman who has turned against Britain.

It takes a long time for the story to emerge after Lammas is initially asked by a friend to step-in and stop his son from letting himself down by chasing after a woman that he has deemed to be unsuitable. That then puts Lammas on the road and caught up in a plot that is quite different from where you initially expect it to be going.

Once it beds down and the focus of the action emerges it does gain the pace you recognize from 39 Steps. As the two groups head towards their date with destiny Lammas is the link between all sides meeting the enemy before the others and then acting as a catalyst for action.

What reminds you strongly of 39 Steps is the way that no one seems to believe Lammas and he is often alone in wild countryside struggling in the darkness both literally and metaphorically to fins the light.

At the conclusion there is a hint, with the growing feelings of love that Lammas has developed for the rescued heroine, that this has been more than just an adventure for the minister but a Damascus type conversion of character.

What keeps you going with this book is the pace, the plot and the sense of surprise that Buchan can conjure up when something happens that you did not expect. For instance Lammas gets captured, something you did not expect, shows bravery that you are not prepared for based on his description at the beginning.

There are some things that don’t quite work with this book, sometimes the language is too dated and the sense of honour something that is very alien in today’s society. But overall this is a great adventure story and although the length gives more opportunity for weakness – the story does take too long to get going – it is well worth reading.

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The Free Fishers – post III

There are moments here when Buchan is juggling four different strands of the same story as the various groups come together for the climax. He moves backwards and forwards but never loses the gathering pace of the story and as a result by the time the final confrontation comes you are wound up enough to appreciate it.

But this is not just a straight forward adventure story of a dastardly plot to assassinate the prime minister being foiled and is much more with the subtle differences between Scots and English, learned and unlearned men getting a going over as well.

By the end you realise that you are in the hands of a brilliant story teller who has weaved a story from relatively innocent beginnings. The slow start and the mixed messages that are sent out about the likely plot development make the final third of the novel an even greater and more enjoyable surprise.

You might know how things will end up but you don’t know how and that makes this so gripping.

A review will follow soon…

The Free Fishers – post II

It has been a while since I read 39 Steps but you are reminded how capable Buchan is of weaving a plot with pace and mystery.

Having spent 80 odd pages laying the foundations the story goes up a gear and Lammas starts to come into his own as the true evil of the scheme to undermine the British government becomes clear. Lammas is the one who has the strange encounter with one of the main victims of the plot and he picks up the burden of chasing down the arch plotter Crammer and releasing Mrs Crammer from certain death.

Up to this point the story has been muddied with love interests of two sons of significant men but for now that is cast aside as the main plot takes over. Buchan splits up the characters and has the action coming to a conclusion from several different directions. He also uses coincidence with great effect as well as making his characters walk the tightrope between being believed and being seen as mad.
As things start to move towards some sort of conclusion the reader is gripped expecting the plot to go in a certain direction but gladly letting Buchan take you on that journey.

More tomorrow…

The Free Fishers – post I

Having read about one Scottish minister get embroiled with mystery it seemed like an apt choice to pull John Buchan’s Free Fishers off the shelf.

This is written in the Scottish style with language sometimes making it difficult to quite get the gist. But the story starts to kick in and what turns into a mission for Nanty Lammas the university lecturer and minister of the Kirk to protect a love struck youg man from a duel widens out into something much more interesting.

On his way to save the young man Lammas bumps into a young man who is part of the Free Fishers group of fishermen but is also love struck. But Lammas is quickly brought into the mission that has been handed to the free fishers by the King.

The centre of the problem is a woman who apparently is a spy for the French and using her remote stately home as a base for spying, smuggling people into and out of the country. Now Lammas has the task of breaking the spy ring as well as saving the young lover from the pistol shot that threatens him in a duel.

More tomorrow…

book of books – The 39 Steps


The reason for choosing this book by John Buchan as a lunchtime read is because it is a slim volume that can be consumed easily in sections over lunch. The unforeseen problem is that it is so addictive that it is almost impossible to put it down and turn back to the screen to get on with your work.

Plot summary
The story focuses on Richard Hannay a mining engineer who has returned to London after an absence of some years and is on the brink of heading to South Africa to avoid the boredom when he comes across a strange man called Scudder. The stranger outlines a plan to destabilise Europe and bring on war by murdering the Greek leader and just as it seems like he might live to solve the mystery he is killed and Hannay, armed with Scudder’s black notebook, is left to solve the crime and stop the Germans from getting away with the secrets – something he manages to do.

Is it well written?
It is self consciously the style of a dime thriller and the pace of the book is amazing and there is not much detailed description around the central issue of Hannay surviving and being around to foil the Black Stone secret organisation. Even if you don’t like thrillers the feature to admire here is the pace, which never flags over the course of the book. There also has to be a mention of the plot because it is not always clear what will happen next and that is also a good reason for sticking with it.

Should it be read?
It is not only a real page turner before Dan Brown even discovered he wanted to write one, but also paints a picture of pre-war innocence in 1913 London that is almost tangible as the old boys network and the Empire are still in full swing. Read it for pleasure but don’t expect to be reading it for too long because this will keep you going until the very end.

Version read – Penguin Classics paperback

book of books – The 39 Steps


The reason for choosing this book by John Buchan as a lunchtime read is because it is a slim volume that can be consumed easily in sections over lunch. The unforeseen problem is that it is so addictive that it is almost impossible to put it down and turn back to the screen to get on with your work.

Plot summary
The story focuses on Richard Hannay a mining engineer who has returned to London after an absence of some years and is on the brink of heading to South Africa to avoid the boredom when he comes across a strange man called Scudder. The stranger outlines a plan to destabilise Europe and bring on war by murdering the Greek leader and just as it seems like he might live to solve the mystery he is killed and Hannay, armed with Scudder’s black notebook, is left to solve the crime and stop the Germans from getting away with the secrets – something he manages to do.

Is it well written?
It is self consciously the style of a dime thriller and the pace of the book is amazing and there is not much detailed description around the central issue of Hannay surviving and being around to foil the Black Stone secret organisation. Even if you don’t like thrillers the feature to admire here is the pace, which never flags over the course of the book. There also has to be a mention of the plot because it is not always clear what will happen next and that is also a good reason for sticking with it.

Should it be read?
It is not only a real page turner before Dan Brown even discovered he wanted to write one, but also paints a picture of pre-war innocence in 1913 London that is almost tangible as the old boys network and the Empire are still in full swing. Read it for pleasure but don’t expect to be reading it for too long because this will keep you going until the very end.

Version read – Penguin Classics paperback

book of books – The 39 Steps


The reason for choosing this book by John Buchan as a lunchtime read is because it is a slim volume that can be consumed easily in sections over lunch. The unforeseen problem is that it is so addictive that it is almost impossible to put it down and turn back to the screen to get on with your work.

Plot summary
The story focuses on Richard Hannay a mining engineer who has returned to London after an absence of some years and is on the brink of heading to South Africa to avoid the boredom when he comes across a strange man called Scudder. The stranger outlines a plan to destabilise Europe and bring on war by murdering the Greek leader and just as it seems like he might live to solve the mystery he is killed and Hannay, armed with Scudder’s black notebook, is left to solve the crime and stop the Germans from getting away with the secrets – something he manages to do.

Is it well written?
It is self consciously the style of a dime thriller and the pace of the book is amazing and there is not much detailed description around the central issue of Hannay surviving and being around to foil the Black Stone secret organisation. Even if you don’t like thrillers the feature to admire here is the pace, which never flags over the course of the book. There also has to be a mention of the plot because it is not always clear what will happen next and that is also a good reason for sticking with it.

Should it be read?
It is not only a real page turner before Dan Brown even discovered he wanted to write one, but also paints a picture of pre-war innocence in 1913 London that is almost tangible as the old boys network and the Empire are still in full swing. Read it for pleasure but don’t expect to be reading it for too long because this will keep you going until the very end.

Version read – Penguin Classics paperback