I enjoyed all four of Buchan's works immensely, and understand the various caveats stated in the preceding reviews. Indeed, perhaps two dictionaries (one of English and one of Scots dialect) might enhance the reader's understanding of the texts. An additional consideration is that Buchan's works are clearly the product of the times in which they were written. Although others cluck their tongues about "dated dialogue", "stereotypes", "bigoted" or "biased" statements, etc., I hold no sympathy to such narrow interpretations--instead, I found these books to be refreshing and enlivening for these very same traits. In the current context of prissy, prickly, hair-trigger "sensitivity" and Political Correctness (which finds its origins in the CPUSA's own intolerance of opposing viewpoints), it's rather envigorating to experience the clear-eyed and unsparingly judgemental viewpoint which characterized participants in Britain's hegemony over the world. It was no coincedence that Britons held most of humanity in mild, parent-like contempt---how could they not? They had literally conquered (and incidentally civilized) the vast plupart of humanity and could hardly avoid acquiring a certain sense of superiority in so doing. Additionally, it is clear from their writings that Victorians and Edwardians were hardly mean-spirited and intolerant. Buchan laces his texts with admiration for non-British peoples. I would cite, for readers of this review, a paradigmatic example of this type of tolerant English hero---Sir Richard Francis Burton. In almost every way, this astonishing explorer and adventurer captured the era. If you don't have time to read Edward Rice's superb biography of Burton, view the wonderful movie "Mountains of the Moon"-----a rare respite among American movies from the computer-generated puerile trash clogging our theaters.
Burton was far bigger than life, whereas Buchan's Richard Hannay is not. He is fraught with foibles and failings and this helps reinforce the wondrous adventures he undergoes in these four novels. Other characters may seem a little less well-developed, but they nonetheless add much political, social and historical perspective. However, to equate Peter Pienaar, the Boer hunter/adventurer to Nelson Mandala is ludicrous almost beyond comment. Some characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, but they do serve their purpose(s) as plot sign-posts or movers. Buchan's having written something like "Greenmantle" mere weeks after the collapse of the Gallipoli campaign, and his intensely-apropos insight into the rise of problems centered around both the Islamic jihadists and the rage of Germans at being deprived of their "due" place of prominence in the world, and even of the bombardment of London from the air (right down to people huddling in the Tube) are simply arresting in their capacity to predict what was to transpire in the decades to follow.
Anyone who has a strong interest or curiosity to get behind the simple objective histories of this era will be greatly rewarded by reading Buchan's works. Even if it's from just the dialogue, you will recieve an excellent grounding in the attitudes and events which shaped so much of humanity's most violent century (so far!). Without spoiling any of these treasures for you, I can cite one snippet from "The Three Hostages" which encapsulates the British flair and demi-godlike courage, so sadly missing from our era: one of Dick Hannay's friends, in a surprise to all attending, reveals himself and immediately gets a leg up on the villain, Medina, in a confrontation:
"We meet again sooner than we expected. I missed my train and came to look for Dick....Lay down that pistol, please. I happened to be armed too, you see. It's no case for shooting anyhow. Do you mind if I smoke?"
Perfect. Ian Fleming never topped that. Just imagine those lines delivered in the rat-a-tat dialogue form of movies from the 1920's and 30's. An era captured in just over forty words. Shows you why these people bestrode the World and taught it how to run things!
I was especially grateful for the wonderful overview provided by Robin Winks' Introduction to the four books. It truly eases you into a deeper understanding and appreciation of these works.