If you had to summarise a John Buchan book you would use a few words including “adventure, pace and drama” and it is no different here.
But for those that loved the 39 Steps there is a slight difference in the amount of time it takes for the story to become clear and the action to get going. This is a slightly more convoluted story and it takes getting past the history of the Free Fishers group and the misunderstanding about a duel before things get going.
When they do get going this is a story about a plot to kill the prime minister and leave the finger of blame pointing at an abused woman who is too weak to fight her own corner.
Instead an odd selection of characters emerge to defend her led by the hero a professor and priest, Anthony Lammas, who manages to surprise even himself as the plot develops and the violence increases. He is supported by some of the Free Fishers as he speeds down to Norfolk to smash a gang run by a maverick nobleman who has turned against Britain.
It takes a long time for the story to emerge after Lammas is initially asked by a friend to step-in and stop his son from letting himself down by chasing after a woman that he has deemed to be unsuitable. That then puts Lammas on the road and caught up in a plot that is quite different from where you initially expect it to be going.
Once it beds down and the focus of the action emerges it does gain the pace you recognize from 39 Steps. As the two groups head towards their date with destiny Lammas is the link between all sides meeting the enemy before the others and then acting as a catalyst for action.
What reminds you strongly of 39 Steps is the way that no one seems to believe Lammas and he is often alone in wild countryside struggling in the darkness both literally and metaphorically to fins the light.
At the conclusion there is a hint, with the growing feelings of love that Lammas has developed for the rescued heroine, that this has been more than just an adventure for the minister but a Damascus type conversion of character.
What keeps you going with this book is the pace, the plot and the sense of surprise that Buchan can conjure up when something happens that you did not expect. For instance Lammas gets captured, something you did not expect, shows bravery that you are not prepared for based on his description at the beginning.
There are some things that don’t quite work with this book, sometimes the language is too dated and the sense of honour something that is very alien in today’s society. But overall this is a great adventure story and although the length gives more opportunity for weakness – the story does take too long to get going – it is well worth reading.