I’ve been enjoying the great John Buchan’s Huntingtower on Kindle (goes great with a sip of The Singleton of an evening), and in addition to the typical early-20th-century thriller plot points (Bolsheviks! Romanovs!) and the usual Buchanisms (Scottish countryside alternately spectacular and gloomy, dark manors, stout heroes, pure maidens) I’ve found myself grinning at the utterly charming conceit of a retired middle-class grocery owner protagonist, finding new life when tested to his limits. Not Buchan’s usual hero.
“I haven’t been doing badly for an old man,” he reflected with glee. What, oh what had become of the pillar of commerce, the man who might have been a bailie had he sought municipal honours, the elder in the Guthrie Memorial Kirk, the instructor of literary young men?
In the past three days he had levanted with jewels which had once been an Emperor’s and certainly were not his; he had burglariously entered and made free of a strange house; he had played hide-and-seek at the risk of his neck and had wrestled in the dark with a foreign miscreant; he had shot at an eminent solicitor with intent to kill; and he was now engaged in tramping the world with a fairytale Princess.
I blush to confess that of each of his doings he was unashamedly proud, and thirsted for many more in the same line. “Gosh, but I’m seeing life,” was his unregenerate conclusion.
One can also count on Buchan for extended musings on the inner stirrings in some humans that let them rise to a challenge.
On their right the House rose like a dark cloud, but Dickson had lost his terror of it…. He marvelled at his mood, and also rejoiced, for his worst fear had always been that he might prove a coward. Now he was puzzled to think how he could ever be frightened again, for his one object was to succeed, and in that absorption fear seemed to him merely a waste of time. “It all comes of treating the thing as a business proposition,” he told himself.
Huntingtower’s well worth a read if you like this sort of thing, as I do.
(Incidentally, I am finding it far too easy to read ebooks on my phone. How the hell do I justify our thousands of paper books taking up space now? Some young whippersnapper’s going to observe that I’m paying $x per linear foot to the mortgagee for all the bookshelves in our house, wouldn’t I like to move to a smaller place and pocket those extra funds, hmm? and I’ll be the snarling old coot without a coherent answer, dammit.)
Remember, Buchan wrote thrillers for the post-World War I generation. For a taste of the darkness Buchan was steeped in, try this extended excerpt. Runs a chill down my spine every time.
And when he stretched his boundaries, you got these gems.