Set in the immediate aftermath of the first world war (and we are constantly reminded of the war from the scars of the protagonists to the remembered dead to the availability of Service revolvers), this is a Scottish adventure story. At the same time it is a modern myth with heavy overtones of fairy tale.
Dickson McCunn (his surname means son of a dog) has just retired having sold his very successful grocery business and decides (his wife being away at a spa hotel) to go on a ramble through the Scottish countryside. Despite his bourgeois profession he is a romantic at heart. Meeting up with a younger man, a poet who scorns romance, they embark on an expedition to take a look at a rather dishevelled stately home and discover a Russian Princess who has been locked up by villains with Bolshevik leanings who want to steal her jewels. Coincidentally, she is the Russian Princess that the poet fell in love with when he was being nursed back to health in Italy after being wounded on the front. Also by coincidence, a self-organised scout troupe made up of a Glaswegian boy gang called the Gorbals Die-Hards happen to be camping on the moor. So grocer Dickson and his boy band resolve to rescue the princess in distress.
The adventure that follows becomes even more incredible as the characters move back and forth across the moor. After springing the Princess from her perilous situation she then goes back there to do battle with the forces of evil, now reinforced from the sea.
So the plot is bizarre but what makes the book great is the wonderful descriptions of the Scottish countryside; the brilliant vernacular in which most of the characters speak (though some are speaking broader Glaswegian than others); the brilliant counterpointing of the heroic and the humdrum, the romantic and the practical, the poet and the grocer; the regular injection of humour when the book threatens to slide into farce; and the fabulous characters of Dickson, all the Die-Hards, and 'Aunt Phemie'. Even the rather silly and irrelevant poet has a trajectory to fulfil. The only poor characters are the villains who, apart from the slightly scary but farcically stupid innkeeper, are non-entities.
It is a fairy tale saddled with a silly plot but in the hands of a master storyteller like Buchan, it comes to life. April 2015; 211 pages
But if you're going to read Buchan, and you should, avoid the silly The Three Hostages and head for John Macnab and his masterpiece Witch Wood.
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57