Castle Macnab: Richard Hannay Returns

Written by Robert J. Harris
Review by Katharine Quarmby

This is the second in a series of books by Robert J Harris which pay homage to the classic adventure stories of John Buchan. The first, The Thirty-One Kings, presses Buchan’s best loved character, Richard Hannay, into service again for the British state and its allies in the Second World War. In this book Harris takes the characters from Buchan’s John Macnab and, like other writers before him, sends them off on another exploit, involving their wartime enemy, the Kaiser himself. Richard Hannay and his three friends, peer Charles Lamancha, banker and sportsman John Palliser-Yeates and the MP and lawyer, Sir Edward Leithen, find themselves racing against time to rescue the Kaiser and thus avert the risk of plunging Europe into another war.

This is an entertaining new adventure for Hannay and his chums, and is ably told with great pacing. Harris pulls off Buchan’s style but with a tad more wit and a tad less colonialism, which is to be welcomed. However, the prologue and first chapter were a little too full of adjectives and adverbs for my liking, with phrases like “innocent mischief of boyhood” and “good-humoured wrinkles” grating slightly. However, the narrative soon picks up steam when Richard Hannay makes a dramatic appearance, and takes up the story in first person, with a plea to his friends to help him in “what may be the most desperate endeavour of their lives”. This is the moment when the book comes alive, with chases through woods and over craggy rocks. There’s genuine empathy for those affected by the Great War, and it shows how emotional damage distorts ethical values for men and women of all backgrounds. A yarn with a heart.