Tag Archives: John Buchan

The Power-House

‘It’s very short, has absolutely no plot, and would make a good film.’ That’s roughly how the Resident IT Consultant summarised his first holiday read. And I had wondered, because at 108 pages John Buchan’s The Power-House, from 1913, seemed like a book that would be over before he’d even begun.

John Buchan, The Power-House

On that basis, I decided to have a go too, and was given the blessing that I’d not find it hard to read…

I have a certain fondness for the lives of these [purely fictional?] heroes who go about their lives in the early 20th century with not a worry. They have money and usually a good job – this one is both a lawyer and an MP – and they know everyone and they ‘dine out’ all the time, living in ‘rooms’ with a man to look after them.

This one, Sir Edward Leithen, fancies a holiday in the West Country, so buys a motorcar, employs a driver and off he goes! These men can go travelling at the drop of a hat and they buy whatever they need for their adventures. I have long wondered if there ever were real men like that.

So there is a mystery, which we never really understand, but Leithen takes it upon himself to solve it, and through lots of odd coincidences he ends up deeper and deeper (in shit, as we say these days), until his own safety is at serious risk. It involves Russia, and a wealthy and powerful man in London. Leithen is a bit naïve at times, but good will conquer all.

As short thrillers go, this is pretty thrilling. And yes, apart from there being virtually no women in the story at all, it’d make a really good film. The nice thing about it having been written in 1913 is that John Buchan can’t have had either Hollywood or Hitchcock in mind.

Besides, don’t you just love the kind of set-up where marooned ‘gentlemen’ could simply call in at a respectable house and be taken in and fed and watered and given a bed for the night?

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Thin Air

Michelle Paver has done it again. She’s managed to persuade me that she’s really John Buchan and Erskine Childers in one, blended with a bit of Kipling. In Thin Air the reader is – once more – transported to the 1930s, and this time it’s to climb Kangchenjunga. And as if that’s not enough of an ordeal, the mountain is haunted.

Thin Air is an adult novel, but only just. There is nothing unsuitable for younger readers keen on climbing and adventure, and who don’t mind being scared by the ghost of Kangchenjunga.

Michelle Paver, Thin Air

Dr Stephen Pearce is a last-minute replacement as the medic in the climbing team which consists of his older brother Kits, his brother’s best friend and two military climbers; one of whom is described as ‘a shade off in the vowels’ compared with these rather snobbish sahibs.

They are to follow the same route as a famous – but disastrous – climb almost thirty years earlier.

And, well, maybe they shouldn’t have.

This is such a marvellous tale of adventure, and you feel alternately exhausted by the climb and scared of whatever, whoever, is lurking out there in the snow. You admire the sherpas for their skills and patience with these strangers who call them coolies and yak-wallahs, and look down on the very men there to help them potentially become famous. If they succeed. Maybe even if they don’t.

If they survive.

The period feel is superb. As is the rising tension in the sahib camp.

You’ll not get me up there.