Greenmantle by John Buchan

GreenmantleGreenmantle: “I had just finished eating breakfast and was filling my pipe when I got Bullivant’s telegram.”

After his harrowing and unexpected adventures in The Thirty-Nine Steps, we find Richard Hannay with his friend, Sandy, convalescing at home from the Battle of Loos, a battle that made up part of the battles of the First World War.  But there are rumblings of a war in the East, a Holy War orchestrated by the Germans and their Turkish allies, that would bring about great unrest and tragedy.  Britain cannot afford distractions and therefore Hannay must penetrate the Eastern regions and discover the truth about the secret rumblings.

He is given only one clue, a paper taken from a dead British agent that has three words on it:  “Kasredin,” “cancer,” and “v.I.”  And his support is minimal: “You can have what money you like, and you can get what help you like.  You can follow any plan you fancy, and go anywhere you think fruitful.  We can give no directions.”

Lisboa e o Tejo Domingo

Lisboa e o Tejo Domingo (1935) Carlos Botelho

With his trusted companion Sandy, and a brash and confident American John Blenkiron, each start on separate journeys, planning to meet at Constantinople in two months.  With Sandy travelling through Asia Minor and Blenkiron seeing what he can discover with a route through Germany, Hannay goes via Lisbon disguised as a Boer (South African) and one completely disgusted with English rule and supremacy.  Meeting an old but crafty chum, Peter Pienaar, they are taken into German confidence, meeting a Colonel Strumm in the Netherlands where they convince him of their influence on the Muslims.  Thus, they go to Germany but eventually their uncomfortable allies become suspicious of their actions and Hannay is forced to flee with Strumm hot on his tail. It is only his wily wits that save him and allow him to reach the appointed Constantinople.

Boat Ride by Kumkapi in Constantinople

Boat Ride by Kumkapi in Constantinople (1846) Ivan Constantinovich Alvazov
source Wikimedia Commons

From a nefarious bevy of Turkish dancers, to a femme fatale of dangerous proportions, to a battle between Russian and Turkish forces, Hannay manages to navigate a treacherous minefield of clues and adversaries to solve the mystery of the words on the paper and uncover information about the mysterious prophet Greenmantle.

View of Constantinople

View of Constantinople (1851) Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

The novel started off slowly for me and honestly, I found the introduction to Hannay’s mission rather weak and confusing.  Perhaps if I knew more about the history of that time it would have been more impactful.  Hannay occasionally makes references to places and battlefields that flew over my head.  And the coincidences!  How he manages to run into people he knows throughout Europe and the East through pure serendipity is awe inspiring, but in spite of these bumps in the storyline, Buchan manages to put together a page-turner.  As soon as Hannay began his journey, the pace of the story escalated and his captures and escapes kept me eagerly turning each page wondering what was going to happen next.


Constantinople – James Webb
source Wikiart

With two excellent Richard Hannay novels read and thoroughly enjoyed, I’m eagerly anticipating the next one, Mr. Standfast.  However, there are apparently many illusions to The Pilgrim’s Progress, with Hannay using it to decode messages, so it might be a good idea to read it first.  I’ve always mean to and just haven’t managed to yet, in spite of reading another one of Bunyan’s books, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  Perhaps it’s time to pull it off the shelf in preparation for another exciting Hannay adventure!

19 thoughts on “Greenmantle by John Buchan

  1. I’m intrigued by ‘The 39 Steps’ after enjoying the three(?) movie versions. I’m also a fan of classic adventure stories like this. I might try some Buchan next year – maybe.

    • Hi and welcome!! I think you’ll really enjoy the books. Buchan does an amazing job of keeping you on the edge of your seat if you can overlook the unbelievable coincidences that I mentioned. And he makes Hannay very believable; not a greater-than-life hero but just an ordinary man with convictions. He’s very likeable. I hope to hear what you think when you read the first book …. I bet you won’t be able to stop there!

      • Thanks. I’ve read 8 classics this year (so far!) & hope to repeat something similar next year. I’ll see if I can fit in ’39 Steps’ among them. I have an old hardback pocket edition in a pile somewhere….

  2. This sounds like a fun series to get into! Also, I love the paintings you chose. 🙂 Interesting note about the historical context… I think that’s a good reason to try to read books from the same era sequentially, – you get all those cross references and reminders. (I used to do that more often, now I just popcorn all over the place.)

    Re: Pilgrim’s Progress, it was a childhood favorite of mine. I hope you like it!

    • I have good intentions to read books in the same era but like you, I’ve started to hop all over the place. So glad to hear about The Pilgrim’s Progress. I read a child’s book, The Little Pilgrim’s Progress and loved it so I have high hopes for it. I almost feel like I know it already!

      • Richard Hannay

        1. The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)
        2. Greenmantle (1916)
        3. Mr Standfast (1918)
        aka Mr Steadfast
        4. The Three Hostages (1924)
        5. The Island of Sheep (1936)
        aka The Man From the Norlands

        • Ah! I’d forgotten about The Island of Sheep. Thanks for the list!

          There’s a big gap in years between the writing of #4 & #5. It will be interesting to see how Hannay has developed during that time.

  3. Ooh. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve read this before but it’s been a long time and I’d forgotten half of it–this makes me want to reread it. And I’ve never read Mr. Standfast.

    • Ooo, you’ll have to read Mr. Standfast and there’s one other after it, I think (or two). I’m intrigued by him using The Pilgrim’s Progress as a decoder. Rather inventive.

      • I’ve read the last two; The Island of Sheep is a bit of a falling off if I remember. But have you read Sick Heart River? Richard Hannay has a peripheral role in it, but it’s mostly about a river trip into remote Canada. I thought it was pretty great.

        • I was wondering about that last one. Oh well. I haven’t read Sick Heart River, but since you mention it, I’m adding it to the list. Strange how books about Canada are popping up lately. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it, or even pay an exorbitant price for it online. 😫

  4. Mr Standfast is my favourite. Buchan develops the characters from Greenmantle – Peter & Blenkiron but also Hannay – very satisfying! Knowing the story & characters in Pilgrim’s Progress really adds to the enjoyment of Mr S. I’ve read it three times now.

    • Oh, I’m so excited to hear that, Carol. I was planning to read some other books but I now might move to Mr. Standfast quite quickly. I own four of the Hannay books in a compilation and another Buchan book Huntingtower. But first, The Pilgrim’s Progress!

  5. I’ve read the 39 steps years ago (after watching the film) and I think another novel by this author, but I can’t remember the title for the life of me…

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