Greenmantle – What a load of old tosh! – and Rogue Male – still has what it takes

Greenmantle was published in 1916. This was the second of John Buchan’s novels and features the character Richard Hannay who was the hero of the better known TheThirty-Nine Steps. I decided to re-read it (I had read it once when I was twelve but absolutely nothing of the story had stayed with me) and it succeeded in doing what Arthur Hailey’s book. Detective, (another book that I started recently but ended up hurling into the discard box) completely failed to do – namely catching the reader’s interest and dragging him/her into the very heart of the narrative. (The only thing I did remembered was what I took to be a bit of racial stereotyping – Buchan’s use of the word Portugoose). Well, this is a book of mad derring-do and although it dragged me into the tale I have to say that this was a big mistake. The story completely fails to make sense in the way that the novels of Hammond Innes (where have they gone to?) and Neville Shute (now being accorded some belated distinction I see) managed. There is no true structure to the book. It is a case of one damn thing happening after another – and people coming and going with tiresome predictability -and then miraculously the necessary answers that unlock the supposed mystery are provided to the people charged with solving it. And then a character – who should have been the centre of the book (In some way like Ryder Haggard’s Prester John (Now there was a great steaming virile read)) – flits around and then takes off and then…well, what exactly? All very unsatisfactory.

But before that – clearly I am on a nostalgia trip – I re-read Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. Whereas one is set in the heart of the First World War, the latter book is planted firmly in the year 1938-39. This is a book that does not hurtle madly from one set – and very random – situation to another. On the contrary, this is a book that slowly and inexorably (lovely word that) constricts like a boa around its victim – and the hero (and reader) is the victim. And this is a lovely book too for the psychological journey that the hero takes as he realises why he was led to do what he did, resulting in him finding himself in this constricting predicament.

Both these books share the feature that their heroes are stinking rich, upper class, jolly good fellows and all that. Greenmantle is a classic story that seems to have been arrived at by the writer dashing off a tale. It really should have been turned inside out and rewritten – but that would have taken a far greater writer than Buchan ever was (and yet that tale might still be written today, perhaps). I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out what I’m talking about and it really isn’t worth the effort.

Meanwhile the books pile up, M gets more and more irritated with the mess and I feel more and more irritated that I cannot somehow read them all in parallel at great speed. Ah! If only!

About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see My Fighting Cancer website is My cancer information archive is at
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