Greenmantle by John Buchan

IMG_47811916. Richard Hannay is recuperating from injuries sustained at Loos. Hannay, you recall, is the doughty hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Sadly, Greenmantle does not have the simple narrative line of that fine chase novel. Instead, Hannay is sent on a mission to Turkey to try to stop Germany’s secret weapon, which is a….well, it’s a sort of…ummm…, oh I’ll let Sir Walter Bullivant of the Foreign Office explain: “Some star – man, prophecy or trinket – is coming out of the West.” That person, or piece of writing, or perhaps jewel, will be the spark that starts a holy war in which the peoples of Islam are manipulated by Germany to defeat the Allies. “Supposing there is some Ark of the Covenant which will madden the remotest Moslem peasant with dreams of paradise?” asks Sir Walter, sounding a bit barking himself. Greenmantle loses its way a little in the second half since it is as confused as that all sounds. By the time Hannay is on the right track there is a succession of set pieces, each less interesting than the last: rooftop chase…blah blah…Cossacks charge…blah blah…unlikely denouement with an artillery shell and Hilda von Einem, the sketched-in-femme-fatale-by-numbers. The story is amusingly full of chaps getting hot under the collar at either a) women’s wiles or b) easterners’ funny ways. Hannay, in disguise as a South African who hates the British (there is a lot of dressing up in Greenmantle) gets a shock when shown to the guest bedroom of German baddie Stumm’s castle: ‘It was the room of a man who had a passion for frippery, who had a perverted taste for soft delicate things.’ ‘Perverted’ seems to be quite a jump from spotting a cushion and ‘a thick grey carpet of velvet pile’. But Hannay’s mind is now racing. Although he doesn’t say it in so many words, he is worried that the next phase will be, as Captain Blackadder might put it, ‘squareheads down for the big Boche gang-bang’  Instead, he and Stumm have a fight – which is perhaps what chaps did in those times to express their true feelings, and certainly left them on more familiar ground.

 

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