Posted by: billpurdue | April 29, 2013

A better book than “The 39 Steps” ?

A distant relative of mine died earlier this year and I now have quite a lot of her books. It seems she was very keen on the novels of John Buchan. She owned quite  few of his novels and now that I’ve read one of them, I’m keen to read more. Buchan is best known for his book “The Thirty Nine Steps” which is the first of five which feature the character Richard Hannay. “Greenmantle” is the novel which follows on and is set during the First World War. Mr Hannay is offered an undercover role to go behind enemy lines to find out more about the mysterious movement which the Germans hope will unite the whole of the Middle East behind them. Hannay recruits a small number of friends who, posing as sympathisers to the German side, all make their separate ways towards Constantinople in search of clues to solve the mystery.


GreenmantleThere’s a lengthy plot summary of “Greenmantle’ in a Wikipedia article (see link below). I found the novel quite gripping, though Buchan uses many expressions and turns of phrase that seem very archaic today and sometimes you have to stop and think about what exactly they mean. That said, it didn’t detract from the effectiveness of the action which was quite gripping at times. So it just goes to show that a novel which appeared almost 100 years ago can still be as thrilling as the best of today’s action novels  – well for me anyway!

“Greenmantle” is still available in paperback or as an ebook from Penguin Classics. You can also read it online at If you would like three Richard Hannay thrillers in one volume (39 Steps, Greenmantle and Mr Standfast), then Bibliophile has “The Best of John Buchan’” for only £3.50 (pbk) plus the usual postage charge.

 Curious Coincidence


The novel which I turned to after finishing “Greenmantle” was “If You’re reading this, I’m Already Dead” by Andrew Nicoll. I’ll say more about this book next time, but about half way through the book, some characters from “Greenmantle” turn up in this story too. Sandy Arbuthnot in “Greenmantle” is one of Richard Hannay’s fellow adventurers and he appears with a group of dancers called ‘The Companions of the Rosy Hours’. This is a group of dancers whose performances seem to mesmerise all those who are watching. Sandy Arbuthnot plays a major role in Nicholl’s book and the Companions also, but to a much lesser extent.  As Nichol’s book is also set in roughly the same period, then this seems feasible. Perhaps Mr Nicoll is a fan of John Buchan?


BBC Four Saturday Night Crime


Bad BloodThough I don’t normally go for crime series on the telly (I’ve never been a Morse fan for example) I ‘m quite a fan of the crime series that occupies the 9 pm slot on Saturdays on BBC Four. Those who are also regulars for this sort of thing will know that the latest series of crime thrillers is from the books by Arne Dahl. So far not many of his books are available in the UK. However “The Blinded Man” and “Bad Blood” will both be available in hardback from Vintage in July for £14.99 each.




  1. Of course I’m a fan of Buchan. He has to be read in the context of his day. There are some racist references which leap off the page today, but the writing is wonderful. And I’m so glad you spotted Sandy Arbuthnott. He was Bond before Bond was invented.
    All the best
    Andrew Nicoll

    • Dear Mr Nicoll Many thanks for your comment and for reading my humble blog. I did enjoy “If You’re Reading This..” and I’ll be writing more about it in about a week or so. Thanks again
      Bill Purdue

  2. Scottish diplomat, barrister, journalist, historian, poet, and novelist, whose most famous thriller was The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), his 27th book. Buchan’s 100 works include nearly 30 novels and seven collections of short stories.

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