Germany is up to something in the Arab world. The action on the Western Front is a cover. British intelligence has just three clues to discover what it is: ‘Kasredin’, ‘cancer’, and ‘v.I’. It is up to Major Richard Hannay, his friend Sandy Arbuthnot, and John S. Blenkiron, an American agent posing as a ‘nootral’, to find out what is going on.
The three men go by separate routes to Constantinople. Hannay assumes the Boer name Corneilus Brandt, and picks up an old friend, Peter Pienaar, a man of the veld. They travel into Germany pretending that they want revenge on the British for the Boer Wars in South Africa, gathering intelligence as they go. Hannay meets Herr Gaudian, an engineer, the Kaiser, and hears of ‘der grüne mantel‘ and Hilda von Einem. Then they are placed under the supervision of Colonel Stumm, who wants to send Hannay to Egypt.
Forced to act, Hannay flees, and arrives a fugitive in Constantinople with Peter and half a day to spare. After a run-in with an offended Turk and a group of skin-clad men, they arrive at their rendezvous, where the ‘Companions of the Rosy Hours’, the same skin-clad party, perform. Hannay and Pienaar are then ‘arrested’ and taken to the leader of ‘the Companions’, none other than Sandy Arbuthnot himself.
Blenkiron is with their comrade, and he has information to share. The three words have been deciphered. The Germans have raised a false prophet of Islam to stir the Middle East into hysteria, and when they are weak, Germany will take control of the region. But the prophet ‘Greenmantle’, the grüne mantel of Hannay’s discovering, is dying, and furthermore, the four men are staying in the same house of the leader of the uprising.
Sandy, has intimate knowledge of the Middle East and Asia Minor, and he is in the thick of the rising stakes. The party of spies moves out of Constantinople to the East, racing time, Colonel von Stumm, arrest warrants and Hilda von Einem for control of the Middle East.
Greenmantle is the second book of Richard Hannay’s five adventures written by John Buchan. The 39 Steps is the least of the stories; of them all, I found Greenmantle the most fascinating. It is full of heavy political talk and laced with the frenzy of Islam, which plays a vital role in the story. The characters find themselves disillusioned and carried away by it many times. The Great Game (the powers of the world vying for power over the Middle East) was heating up during WWI, and this book was written and published in the think of the war. It has an air of currency to it which I like.
(Note: The language is plentiful.)
Peter Pienaar was my favorite character. I can picture him, sun and weather beaten, with rather shrewd eyes, though I think they would be kind–as long as you were friends with him, of course.) Various people groups take a beating from time to time in old literature. The Germans take a helping of it in Greenmantle, partly because it was written for use as propaganda. So do some of the Turks. The Dutch seems to fall victim to it every now and again, like Wessner in Freckles. But Peter was a dear fellow, and Buchan immortalized him.
I liked Blenkiron too, and his ‘nootrality’. One of my favorite parts is at the beginning when he is kicked out of the Savoy for his talk. My other favorite is Peter’s crawl through the battle lines at Erzurum. It is the best description of battle I have ever read.
The ending was ambiguous in regards to the characters feelings about their stand on the religious part of matters, with Sandy in his garb leading the charge into the captured city while the Turks fall on their faces. But I suppose they won. 😛 It’s another fast paced yarn, smarter than The 39 Steps and it gives the reader an intriguing picture of a little known time and place in history.