What is it with series? I just don't like them, that's what. This third Richard Hannay book was a bit of a letdown, but I couldn't bring myself to ratWhat is it with series? I just don't like them, that's what. This third Richard Hannay book was a bit of a letdown, but I couldn't bring myself to rate it two stars. Really, I'd say 2-1/2.
There were some exciting passages in this book, but overall I found that the faults exhibited in the two earlier Hannay tales, namely a tendency to pontificate on character, fate, and philosophy plus a heavy reliance on coincidence to advance the plot were more pronounced here. Buchan also makes frequent references to events from the previous two books, so this is far from a stand-alone tale.
I also found the love interest subplot fairly cringeworthy. The girl is half Hannay's age, for starters, and so wonderfully clean, wholesome, bright, and fearless that I wanted to strangle her.
The central plot of the book sets Hannay up against his Moriarty, an evil arch-enemy he's crossed swords with in the past. Hannay is sent "undercover" among pacifists and conscientious objectors, which gives Buchan endless opportunity to natter on and on about the National Character. When Hannay waxes philosophical, I just skim. That sort of earnest sermonizing seems to have been as de rigeur as fatuous irony is today.
What is even more predictable are the countless references to "the Bosch" as the evil spies and perpetrators behind all that's wrong with the war effort. After a spell among the pacifists, one of Buchan's trademark chase scenes moves things along at a gratifying pace (though there are, alas, so many fortuitous encounters that the plot is marred considerably). The last part of the book, which takes place in Switzerland and then on the front in France can be a little hard to follow without brushing up on WW1 tactics and battles. At the time this was written (1919), of course, all these events would have been common knowledge.
I have to say, however, that I actually enjoyed the opportunity to immerse myself in 1918. These books are very much of their time, and there are many baffling references, some minor and some major, which invariably set me googling. In this novel, for example, I learned that an "Aquascutum" is a type of coat (Hannay mentions the word repeatedly), that there were travel restrictions in place for parts of Scotland during the war (a fact which is central in an extended "chase" scene), that there were about 50 air raids in Britain during the war, and that "Mr. Standfast" is a character in Pilgrim's Progress. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. (It helped that I was reading this e-text on my iPad and could quickly switch over to a browser to consult Google)
Speaking of e-books, a word of warning: I first started reading this from a free e-book I'd downloaded from Barnes and Noble. The text was so badly scanned that virtually every sentence had misspelled words and mangled passages. After about ten pages, I gave up and downloaded a free edition which was almost error-free from Amazon. ...more
"Fire-Tongue" has a promising title but alas is but second-rate Rohmer. Here one finds the characteristic Rohmerian menace from the East, this time in"Fire-Tongue" has a promising title but alas is but second-rate Rohmer. Here one finds the characteristic Rohmerian menace from the East, this time in the form of a secret society based in India and presided over by an effeminate financier from Iran. There are two stalwart men of action and two damsels in distress, but despite the doubling of the recipe the concoction falls flat.
Rohmer spends too much time stoking the fires of suspense, which merely smoulder in response. In particular, he devotes excess verbiage to the hero's inward perceptions, and I soon wearied of passages describing said hero's heightened powers of intuition and sixth sense.
When the unfolding of the novel finally begins in earnest, it takes up the second man-of-action's thread, then twists back and forth among central characters like an unwieldy snake before reaching an all-too-quick climax followed by an almost non-existent denouement. I couldn't help but feeling that Rohmer himself had tired of the antics of "Fire-Tongue." ...more
Having gone wild downloading free e-texts for my Nook, I've found that these texts vary considerably in their quality. This one reads reasonably wellHaving gone wild downloading free e-texts for my Nook, I've found that these texts vary considerably in their quality. This one reads reasonably well -- what scanning errors there are don't render it unintelligible. It had been a long while since I'd read any H. Rider Haggard, and this collection took up our acquaintance nicely.
As an enthusiast of mummy tales and fantasies, I found the title story of this collection moderately appealing, though it really is more a romance than a mystery or horror story. I sensed that H. Rider Haggard, much like his protagonist in the story, had developed an appetite for ancient Egypt, and this tale's plot is as good an excuse as any to trot out his learning.
Four of the tales (the most engaging, to my mind) are set in Africa. I particularly liked ""Magepa the Buck" and "Little Flower," the first of which concerns an act of uncommon bravery and the second a wry tale of an epic cultural clash.
The last tale in the set, "Barbara Who Came Back," seemed overwrought to me and indulged (at great length and sentiment) in the theme of love that endures beyond the grave.
I've got a special shelf, "Ripping Yarns," set up here at Goodreads devoted to this sort of tale. The salient featureThe Ripping-est of Ripping Yarns
I've got a special shelf, "Ripping Yarns," set up here at Goodreads devoted to this sort of tale. The salient feature of a ripping yarn is that once you're well into the book, despite whatever flaws there might be in plot, plausibility, or characterization, it's damn near impossible to put down.
John Buchan's four tales featuring hero Richard Hannay fall squarely in the ripping yarn tradition, and they're particularly remarkable as examples of early spy novels. Here are the badder than bad villains and resourceful, patriotic, man's man of a hero that we encounter later in the novels of Ian Fleming, for example. Then there's the perennial theme that pits one worldview against another, with the fate of civilization hanging in the balance. The exotic settings (in Germany, Hungary, and Turkey) add another layer of intrigue. The plot is too convoluted -- and, to be honest, a little too hocus-pocus -- to recap, but it doesn't really matter. Once the reader has gotten by some of the initial artifice of the premise, it's a sleigh ride.
One thing that I found slightly difficult was the dated parlance of the WWI-era soldier. Germans, for example, are almost always referred to by Hannay as "the Boche," while frequent references to the Boer War, the Turkish campaign, and other contemporary events make the book at times heavy going. I have a fairly good grounding in the history of this period, but still at times I found passages such as this opaque:
"I watched the figures in khaki passing on the pavement, and thought what a nice safe prospect they had compared to mine. Yes, even if next week, they were in the Hohenzollern, or the Hairpin trench at the Quarries, or that ugly angle at the Hooge."
Well, clearly those refer to places of heavy fighting during WWI, but I've no idea where they were. The point is, these sort of references pepper the narrative and the reader is advised to just sail on by and not too worry too much about it.
Another thing that is more worrisome, though, are the frequent lucky chance encounters. Hannay is forever running across one or another of his fellow adventurers at opportune moments -- in an obscure town on the banks of the Danube, for example. It seems more than a little contrived to the modern reader.
Finally, there's one more hurdle for contemporary audiences: the "stiff-upper-lip," "jolly-good-show" British warrior ethos that pervades the book. Here's a representative passage from near the end of the book, when Hannay and two of his companions are trapped and face almost certain death:
"We're the lucky fellows," said Sandy; "we've all had our whack. When I remember the good times I've had I could sing a hymn of praise. We've lived long enough to know ourselves, and to shape ourselves into some kind of decency. But think of those boys who have given their lives freely when they scarcely knew what life meant. They were just at the beginning of the road, and they didn't know what dreary bits lay before them."
I won't give away what happens next, but let's just say the phrase deus ex machina springs to mind.
The remarkable thing is that in spite of all these shortcomings, I could scarcely put this book down. Buchan's prose, however laden with WWI jargon, sings. His heroes bound larger than life from the pages. And those villains... oh those villains! Rosa Klebb and Ernst Blofield have nothing on them. Heady stuff indeed.
I downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & NoblI downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader. Thought I'd try some short stories while getting the hang of using my new device.
It had been years since I had seen the Michael Caine/Sean Connery movie, but I still found that I remembered quite a bit of it. Part of the challenge in reading "The Man Who Would Be King" was to not let my memories of the movie overshadow the tale although I found that letting Michael Caine's voice stand in for Peachey enhanced the reading).
As I read the title story, I reflected on how much a British audience of Kipling's era was familiar with that a modern audience isn't. Luckily, I have a fair amount of background in the history of the British raj, the geography of the region, and the political climate of the time, particularly as pertains to "the Great Game." Still, I suspect I missed some of the humor, particularly in the long build-up to the main events, when the narrator is experiencing a "Deficit of the Budget" and traveling "Intermediate Class" by train. These terms demonstrate part of the charm of the tale -- the use of high-flown language by the down-and-out classes, who may not have the ready money but certainly have ready wits. These are true Kipling "types" and always a treat to encounter.
There's a paternalistic attitude underpinning the tale, however, that I tried not to be judgmental about. The two adventurers, secure in their British know-how, set out to sort out the warring native tribes of fictional Kafiristan. All that's needed, it seems, are some twenty good rifles and the sort of knowledge a seasoned British campaigner would have -- how to drill an army, administer frontier justice, and deal with the natives. Kipling doesn't let this "white man's burden" aspect of the tale overwhelm the brisk narrative, to his credit, and indeed it's the violation of the terms of the adventurers' "Contrack" that proves to be their downfall.
Among the other four tales in this anthology, I liked "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" the best, a macabre tale recounted with considerable relish. "The Phantom Rickshaw" was a lamentably predictable ghost story, while "Wee Willie Winkle," to my mind, suffered from the Victorian tendency to be overly sentimental about children. The final story, "Without Benefit of Clergy" at first glance seemed overly sentimental, concerning as it did the ill-fated affair of a British man with a local Indian woman, but its ultimate effect was one of pathos. It reminded me of a book I read last year by William Dahlrymple, White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, which also concerned a doomed relationship. ...more
A bit of a catch-all Flashman, as this title contains three novelettes, two of them ostensibly penned in Flashman's later years. In the first, "The RoA bit of a catch-all Flashman, as this title contains three novelettes, two of them ostensibly penned in Flashman's later years. In the first, "The Road to Charing Cross," Flashman helps save Emperor Franz Josef of Austria; the second escapade deals with the Tanby Croft scandal, and in the last story Flashman meets up with his nemesis, Tiger Jack Moran. The third tale is a bit of a detour as the nemesis in question is not a historical personage but a fictional one. Tiger Jack Moran, it turns out, is also known Colonel Sebastian Moran, "the second most dangerous man in London," according to Sherlock Holmes (who also has a cameo in this Flashman story).
I felt, somehow, that Fraser was clumping together three ideas for novels that didn't quite pan out here. In other words, he didn't have enough material in each case to spin a full-fledged Flashman book, but each made an adequate good short novel.
Although I am a firm Flashman fan, the title character's banter wore a bit thin here. There was a bit too much fond recollection and "dash it all" and not enough Flashy adventure. Still, the episodes do fill in some holes in the Flashman chronology, and there is a particularly rousing South Africa scene in the third story. ...more
A ripping yarn. Sped through it in two days, licked my chops, and wanted to reach for the next episode. This is the third in the series I've read, andA ripping yarn. Sped through it in two days, licked my chops, and wanted to reach for the next episode. This is the third in the series I've read, and once again I'm in awe of the depth of GMF's scholarship and ability to insert Flashy plausibly into the most implausible circumstances. I'd read some other accounts peripheral to this book, most notably The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan by Ben Mcintyre, but otherwise remained more or less blissfully ignorant of the main event in question, the first Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46. Ever wonder how that admirable warrior race, the Sikhs, came to be among the British Raj's most faithful troops? Well, this volume went a long ways towards explaining it.
Along the way are GMF's usual cast of incredibly colorful -- and even more impressively, historical - characters, including a power-hungry nymphomaniac rani (Jind Kaur, whom Flashman calls "Jeendan"), not one but two American adventurers (Josiah Harlan and Alexander Gardner), and the sort of warts-and-all portraits of the British command (Hugh Gough, Henry Hardinge, et al.) we've come to expect of GMF.
The footnotes are an amateur historians delight, and it's just about all I can do not to hare off to find copies of such promising references as Lady Sale's Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan, for one. And where did GMF come up with such a command of the native terms of abuse and odd bits of market palaver? Hobson-Jobson? Mined from contemporary accounts? Whatever the case, it was delightful.
One note of disappointment (nothing to do with the book per se, mind you): I had wanted to link to a romping good website I'd once found devoted to Flashman, which included with plot synopses and reams of Flashman trivia, but all that seems to remain these days is the Wikipedia entry --- most others have been shut down or disappeared, presumably under legal duress rather than for lack of stamina. It's a pity, as some of them were quite entertaining.
Ah, well; there are always the books. And that's what counts, ain't it?...more
Wonderful bit of cheese by a master of cheesiness. All manner of twists and turns of plots, with wonderfully over-the-top ripe prose (lots of "thou's"Wonderful bit of cheese by a master of cheesiness. All manner of twists and turns of plots, with wonderfully over-the-top ripe prose (lots of "thou's" strewn about). If you like escapism to be Escapism with a capital E, this is your book.
I'd thought that the 1940 Erol Flynn movie "The Sea Hawk" was based on this novel, and as I read I was initially confused as the book's plot wasn't the same as the movie's other than that both share a pirate connection. Later I found that an earlier film (1924) of the same name had been based on the Sabatini tale. Confusing, eh? ...more
Pirates (or privateers) always make sensational subjects, so author Stephan Talty didn't need much embellishment to make the tale of Henry Morgan intoPirates (or privateers) always make sensational subjects, so author Stephan Talty didn't need much embellishment to make the tale of Henry Morgan into a fast-paced and thrilling book. I've read a handful of other accounts of Morgan and other privateers and found this one of the most successful renderings. And while Morgan cuts a definite dash, Talty doesn't shy from making it clear that it was ruthlessness as well as leadership skills, strategic thinking, and inventiveness that led to his success. Interestingly, Morgan was best operating on land, not sea, as one might assume. It was his epic land-based raids that assured his fame, not pitched sea battles (though there is one wonderful episode involving the brilliant use of a 'fire ship' that is the exception).
What I found especially interesting, however, was the how Spanish inflexibility and bureaucracy in the New World made it (relatively) simple for Morgan to defeat them time and again. Talty's descriptions of the bizarre workings of the Spanish court, the historical background on the shifting alliances among the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch, and the details of Morgan's campaigns were all masterfully done. He gave vivid accounts of both the top and bottom of the social ladder, summoning images that made, for example, death-obsessed Philip IV of Spain spring to life. Talty has a vivid style, too, that made listening to the tale even more enjoyable.
I'd be remiss not to mention the reader of this audiobook, John Mayer, who not only has the ideal voice for reading such a swashbuckling tale, but who injected a certain humor and relish into the reading that struck a suitable piratical tone. Mayer's pacing and reading of the text only improved upon it and were always a delight. This reading is an abridged version of the book, I understand, but I can't think that reading the full text would be any improvement -- there are no tell-tale "gaps" that gave away the abridgment.
This was the first of what I hope will be many audio CDs downloaded from a website maintained by a state-wide consortium of libraries. It took some "fiddling" to get the files into a format that would play on my iPod, but persistence paid off. It sure beats loading and ripping individual CDs checked out from my local library....more
R.I.P., George MacDonald Fraser. It was sad to hear that he had recently passed away, and it made me pick up his first Flashman book and fondly recallR.I.P., George MacDonald Fraser. It was sad to hear that he had recently passed away, and it made me pick up his first Flashman book and fondly recall how much fun it was to read. Few writers have created such a wonderful rogue of a character or had such a command of the sweep of history. The Flashman books were my introduction to military history -- and not a bad introduction at that. Details of campaigns which would no doubt have bored me stiff spring to life in Fraser's books.
Eugène Valmont, a conceited, pompous, vain French detective, acts as comic mouthpiece in these satirical tales, which poke fun at both detective storiEugène Valmont, a conceited, pompous, vain French detective, acts as comic mouthpiece in these satirical tales, which poke fun at both detective stories and English society. You need a little background in the popular fiction of the time to get some of the humor. Barr often is spoofing some of the more sensational fiction of the Victorian age here, but he has also created a memorable character, hailed by some critics as "the first, most important humorous detective in English literature. This collection of stories is something of a romp, though I found there was a sort of stylistic repetitiveness in Valmont's wordy first-person accounts that precluded rating the stories more highly....more
There's a lot more to Arthur Conan Doyle than the Sherlock Holmes stories. The character of Challenger, unlike Holmes, is an excitable and passionateThere's a lot more to Arthur Conan Doyle than the Sherlock Holmes stories. The character of Challenger, unlike Holmes, is an excitable and passionate character, given to outburst of temper. The best-known Challenger story (there were five all told) was "The Lost World," but the other four are equally entertaining. Doyle seems to be stepping into Jules Verne territory here with these tales of disintegration machines and poisonous space gases. This ones for ACD fans and those (like myself) addicted to the sorts of fantastic and romantic tales featured in Victorian magazines such as The Strand. ...more
E.W. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, and although he is not nearly as well known as that luminary, he was quite popular in late VictoE.W. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, and although he is not nearly as well known as that luminary, he was quite popular in late Victorian and Edwardian times. Raffles is his most successful book, a collection of tales of a gentleman thief. The title character is dashing and debonair, not to mention a first-class cricket player. (Think David Niven as the Pink Panther and you've got an idea.) He steals jewels from foppish rich folk and outwits the slow-on-the-uptake law at every turn. Thievery is, in short, a sport for him, but always an honorable one. There's the well-known ploy, too, of having a faithful sidekick. Rather than Watson, Raffles has a slightly dim-witted friend, Bunny, who finds himself in financial straits and, in turning to his friend, coincidentally ends up turning to a life of crime. These are dated tales, but they're great fun for enthusiasts of Victorian popular literature. ...more
Not as well known as H. Rider Haggard, Mundy wrote a similar sort of mythic colonial adventure tale, usually in set in his beloved India. At times itNot as well known as H. Rider Haggard, Mundy wrote a similar sort of mythic colonial adventure tale, usually in set in his beloved India. At times it was hard for me to tell where Mundy's belief in psychic/philosophical rigmarole stopped and the swashbuckling tale took over, but I definitely sensed a certain sincerity beneath the pulp adventure story. His tales are less fantastic than, say, Edgar Rice Burroughs' or Robert E. Howard's, but they're equally rich in setting. Here the story takes place in "forbidden" Tibet, and Mundy provides plenty of exotic local color. Of course, there's a sterling British hero and lots of malicious, skulking bad guys hot on his tail, not to mention a mesmerizing mythic woman reminiscent of "She" of Rider Haggard. Great stuff. ...more