Greenmantle: “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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!