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The Four Adventures Of Richard Hannay [Paperback]

John Buchan
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 1994
John Buchan is the father of the modern spy thriller. This is so even though the Hannay books are not, strictly speaking, about spies at all in the professional sense of the word. They are about penetration of the enemy, about lonely escape and wild journeys, about the thin veneer that stands between civilsation and barbarism.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Standfast July 6 2003
Format:Paperback
Having just finished Mr Standfast I felt it a good time to review my thoughts and emotions stirred by the book.
Mr Standfast, the third Buchan novel in the General Hannay series, is a fascinating study in the era in which it was both set and authored. Being published in 1919, the events of WW1, the topic of the book, were no doubt fresh in the authors mind.
The book is not easy for the 21st Century reader with many words not frequently in current use. Keep a dictionary handy. It is however a stimulating read with a great historical
backdrop. Whilst at times farfetched and Biggles like in it's gingoistic tone, the reader is drawn into Hannay's affection for his cause. Overall, a thoroughly recommended read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Classic adventure yarns July 5 2003
Format:Paperback
As my title says, the Four Adventures are real classics that spawned a whole library of imitators. Written as they were during the First World War and immediate post-war period by someone who both hob-nobbed with the political movers and shakers of the time & may have participated in some intertesting Intelligence work on his own (see Peter Hopkirk's LIKE HIDDEN FIRE for some of the "facts" behind GREENMANTLE) they capture a time a place and a people at the height of British global dominance. Given that the first three tales were written during some of the most desperate days of World War I it is no accident that there is some pro-British propaganda, but as the excellnt introduction to this edition points out, Buchan is remarkably kind to both friends and foes, and while the Bad-Guys are truly Bad, they also have their redeeming qualities. THIRTY-NINE STEPS has been made into a number of movies, none of which do it justice. GREENMANTLE is my personal favorite & reading it again for the umpteenth time last year I was struck by how remarkably prescient Buchan was as to the problems we now face with an Islamic Middle East. Mr. Standfast actually wraps things up nicely, with some excellent descriptions of fighting on the Western Front, and I always felt that THE FOUR HOSTAGES was a bit of a tag-on that really wasn't needed (the same can be said of the fifth and long out of print Hannay adventure THE ISLE OF SHEEP, which has been sensibly left out of this volume). If you like adventure stories with a strong male hero, a nice mystery, clearly defined Good and Evil, an appealing heroine (in the last three Adventures) and a good sense of history by someone who actually made part of it, this volume is for you. Readers of Alan Furst & the like will see where contemporary authors got their ideas & timing. This is a wonderful look into a now vanished world that still has clues to our troubled present.
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
'Nuff said about the 39-steps; read the book. If I had written the 39-steps, I could have died without regret.
Buchan delved the emotional depths of strong, silent men, in the wild mystical motion of Greenmantle & in the static unshaken forces of endurance & will of Mr. Standfast. In these two tales, he brought the irresistible force & the immoveable object, the two opposing forces of nature, the storm & the rock, the Yin & the Yang, into being, in his writing.
Strangely, it is another, black, South African, the great Nelson Mandela, who typified in real life, the qualities of Buchan's fictional Boer, Peter Pienaar.
The three hostages was a cop-out, an afterthought, the dabbling of an artist who had reached the top of the mountain and was now relaxing & drawing pretty pictures for his grandchildren.
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Format:Paperback
Having read these books only last year awakened in me a sense of appreciation for the World War I period. The plots are heroic, engaging the reader with excitement and suspense. Rather than focus on one dashing figure, the stories, especially Greenmantle, which I liked the very best, bring in a coterie of stalwart individuals and thrust them into incredibly difficult circumstances which test their mettle to the ultimate degree. The integrity and determination of the British and American protagonists makes one admire the gumption and stamina of an earlier era. These books are terrific reads, absorbing and thrilling. It's almost impossible to believe Buchan wrote them so quickly; they must be based on incidents of which he had knowledge as an intelligence officer in the Great War. The author has his biases and makes no attempt to disguise them. He gives the German foe, whom he collectively calls The Bosch <cabbageheads> no quarter at all. Anyway, these novels are really grand.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic adventure yarns July 5 2003
By John Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As my title says, the Four Adventures are real classics that spawned a whole library of imitators. Written as they were during the First World War and immediate post-war period by someone who both hob-nobbed with the political movers and shakers of the time & may have participated in some intertesting Intelligence work on his own (see Peter Hopkirk's LIKE HIDDEN FIRE for some of the "facts" behind GREENMANTLE) they capture a time a place and a people at the height of British global dominance. Given that the first three tales were written during some of the most desperate days of World War I it is no accident that there is some pro-British propaganda, but as the excellnt introduction to this edition points out, Buchan is remarkably kind to both friends and foes, and while the Bad-Guys are truly Bad, they also have their redeeming qualities. THIRTY-NINE STEPS has been made into a number of movies, none of which do it justice. GREENMANTLE is my personal favorite & reading it again for the umpteenth time last year I was struck by how remarkably prescient Buchan was as to the problems we now face with an Islamic Middle East. Mr. Standfast actually wraps things up nicely, with some excellent descriptions of fighting on the Western Front, and I always felt that THE FOUR HOSTAGES was a bit of a tag-on that really wasn't needed (the same can be said of the fifth and long out of print Hannay adventure THE ISLE OF SHEEP, which has been sensibly left out of this volume). If you like adventure stories with a strong male hero, a nice mystery, clearly defined Good and Evil, an appealing heroine (in the last three Adventures) and a good sense of history by someone who actually made part of it, this volume is for you. Readers of Alan Furst & the like will see where contemporary authors got their ideas & timing. This is a wonderful look into a now vanished world that still has clues to our troubled present.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage, honor and intrepid exploits....the Buchan formula March 10 1998
By Joseph A. Crowley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having read these books only last year awakened in me a sense of appreciation for the World War I period. The plots are heroic, engaging the reader with excitement and suspense. Rather than focus on one dashing figure, the stories, especially Greenmantle, which I liked the very best, bring in a coterie of stalwart individuals and thrust them into incredibly difficult circumstances which test their mettle to the ultimate degree. The integrity and determination of the British and American protagonists makes one admire the gumption and stamina of an earlier era. These books are terrific reads, absorbing and thrilling. It's almost impossible to believe Buchan wrote them so quickly; they must be based on incidents of which he had knowledge as an intelligence officer in the Great War. The author has his biases and makes no attempt to disguise them. He gives the German foe, whom he collectively calls The Bosch <cabbageheads> no quarter at all. Anyway, these novels are really grand.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Original Spy Thrillers Feb. 5 2006
By D. S. Thurlow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Four Adventures of Richard Hannay" gathers in one volume stories written by John Buchan during and after his service as an British intelligence officer during the First World War. The first two stories were actually written and published as the war with Imperial Germany and her allies progressed, imparting a sense of urgency and uncertainty about the outcome that an historical novel written after the fact might not have captured in the same way. "The Thirty-Nine Steps", "Greenmantle", "Mr. Standfast", and "The Three Hostages" follow the career of South African mining engineer and British Army officer Richard Hannay. Hannay stumbles into the spy business through the murder of an accidental lodger in "The Thirty-Nine Steps", set in the time just before the outbreak of war, and is repeatedly called back to the spying businees, often from his military duties, in the remaining stories. Buchan's technique improved with practice; the stories develop more complicated plotlines and smoother deliveries.

Those familar with the Sherlock Holmes stories will find a similar sort of pacing in Buchan's adventure stories. Buchan relies heavily on coincidence and exotic settings in advancing his story lines, and some of the stereotypes and language will seem dated to modern readers. Some other portions of the stories will seem remarkably fresh, as for example Hannay's description of the opposition by some Britons to the War with Germany, proof, if we needed it, that human nature is remarkably constant. The story lines are engaging, and Richard Hannay is a sympathetic hero, if very much a man of his times. Buchan, a born and raised Scotsman, is often at his literary best in describing the people, land and simple details of ordinary living of Scotland and England.

Readers are highly encouraged to read the introductory essay by Robin Winks, which provides excellent background on the remarkable life of John Buchan and the context of his writing. In his description of the "Buchan Formula", Winks makes the case that Buchan is the literary forefather of later writers of spy fiction such as Jon LeCare.

This book is highly recommended to those fans of the spy genre who would like to explore its antecendants, and to those readers looking for authentic period piece stories.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Standfast July 6 2003
By DJ McMahon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having just finished Mr Standfast I felt it a good time to review my thoughts and emotions stirred by the book.
Mr Standfast, the third Buchan novel in the General Hannay series, is a fascinating study in the era in which it was both set and authored. Being published in 1919, the events of WW1, the topic of the book, were no doubt fresh in the authors mind.
The book is not easy for the 21st Century reader with many words not frequently in current use. Keep a dictionary handy. It is however a stimulating read with a great historical
backdrop. Whilst at times farfetched and Biggles like in it's gingoistic tone, the reader is drawn into Hannay's affection for his cause. Overall, a thoroughly recommended read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Four Adventures of Richard hannay: Valuable "Period Pieces" March 13 2010
By Alfred Douglass - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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