Huntingtower by John Buchan

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Huntingtower by John Buchan

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A further rerelease from the estate of John Buchan's Scottish-set thrillers, this featuring a captured Russian princess in need of rescue.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Polygon
ISBN: 9781846972232

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Dickson McCunn is on his travels through rural Scotland when he meets a man he doesn't warm to at first, by the name of John Heritage. They are quite chalk and cheese – McCunn an older man, who has only just sold up his very well-known Glasgow grocery shop and made this trip his first steps into retirement on a complete whim. Heritage is younger, English, and a soldier. McCunn seems the old Romantic, Heritage modern poetry in contrast. But when they meet up it's at the edge of the Huntingtower estate, a coastal country house, guarded by suspicious landlords turning guests away and unfriendly foreign types, and found to contain a young beauty who just happens to be the love of Heritage's life, since they met a few years previous. She is being coerced into staying against her will, but lo and behold – the cynical Heritage can come over all chivalrous and try and rescue her – with desperate consequences for both men…

The back cover blurb will reveal she is a Russian princess, and it's easy from that to tell she's on the run from the Bolsheviks. This doesn't actually leave an awful lot of the plot left to be discovered, but as usual in the rich, florid style of Buchan the plot isn't the be-all-and-end-all. He knocked thrillers like this out at a rate of knots, in amongst his other jobs and non-fiction writing, and upon reflection this shows a slender frame for a thriller. But it certainly is quite an interesting tale, as Buchan positions his two heroes in their quandary, and gives them a very non-standard narrative to play out.

He also throws some very unlikely characters into the mix – the little old biddy landlady that does far too much regardless of consequences, and a troupe of second-rate Baker St Irregulars. But before then we have had the sheer, blatant coincidence of the man Heritage realising his beau is locked up in the house he verily stumbles upon, so we're perhaps asking too much when we demand a bit more realism.

Realism, if any, is provided by the vocabulary of Buchan, and it's certainly one of the richest around. He knows a word for everything – mood, detail of landscape, whatever, and perhaps it'll be archaic or Scots, or both, but you'll come away with some more thumb-marks on your dictionary. He also makes sure many characters speak in vernacular Scots, although when I read it I couldn't get the accent as with, say, Irvine Welsh – instead they sounded too Northumberland.

The main point there is that with the effusive writing style, and local idiom, this isn't the easiest of reads. In bringing out a lot of seemingly incidental detail so pictorially Buchan is again fleshing out the basics too much, and at the same time dating his work – this at times can read like a whole generation or two older than the ninety years it has already reached. Inside it's a quick, unusual thriller that works to some extent even before gaining a race-against-time element later on. Apparently it's been filmed for TV twice, showing there is a core element that's worthwhile. But on the whole this is a wedding dress of a book – a basic pattern covered in layers of diverting lace and pernickety filigree, and that'll probably see one use only.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a very different, modern look at females immediately after the Russian Revolution, we recommend The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne. We have also digested several entrants in the Buchan oeuvre.

Buy Huntingtower by John Buchan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Huntingtower by John Buchan at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Huntingtower by John Buchan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Huntingtower by John Buchan at Amazon.com.


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