Returning to the blog and to reading Buchan

Posted by Helen Friday, March 07, 2014

Readers of this blog know that there have been several postings on John Buchan in the past, he being something of a favourite for many reasons. As part of my post-hospital convalescence I picked up one of the Buchan thrillers I had not read before, The House of the Four Winds, and read it in short order. It is probably the weakest of the three Dickson McCunn tales and is one of Buchan’s weaker thrillers, taking place not in Britain but in the invented Central European country, Evallonia, which resembles Austria in many ways but is not. A continuation of the tale in Castle Gay, it is a wonderful hokum that involves a nasty republican government backed by sinister Marxists, about to be toppled, a self-organizing young civilian army, Juventus, modelled to some extent on Mussolini’s fascisti, a complicated way of ensuring that Prince John becomes king and, above all, a circus run by a cousin of Allison Westwater’s and Janet Roylance’s with a thoroughly likeable and useful elephant by the name of Aurunculeia. We also meet many of the Buchan heroes: Dickson himself, two of the erstwhile Gorbals Die-Hards, Jaikie Galt and Dougal Crombie, Allison who ends the novel as Jaikie’s fiancĂ©e and the Roylances.

It is a little odd that Buchan did not write any more Dickson McCunn mysteries as he was obviously fond of the characters and the ending of The House of the Four Winds requires some kind of continuation. Though most of our heroes leave Evallonia, Jaikie remains, the trusted confidant of the about to be crowned King John and an officer in Juventus. Surely, there must have been some plan to get him back to Britain, to Allison who is unlikely to be happy away from Scotland and into that great career that everybody is predicting though nobody really knows what it will be. As we never hear of him later on as a rising politician, we must assume that he did not enter British politics. Was he snapped up by Sir Walter Bullivant’s successor for the secret service? Did he become another Sandy Arbuthnot with a very different sphere of interests and talents? We never find out. (At least, not as far as I know.) Of the series characters only Archie Roylance turns up in subsequent novels either in person (Island of Sheep) or as a mentioned name (Sick Heart River). We must assume that his marriage to Janet continues to be happy.

The book was published in 1935 by which time it was clear that Evallonia is unlikely to fare well in the near future. The Communist thug Mastrovin is particularly evil but Juventus has sinister overtones and there is something slightly frightening about them. In the immediate plot they side with the monarchists and help Prince John to the throne. Also several of their leaders seem to be either part-English or educated in England. In reality, as Buchan knew well, the likes of Juventus were not led by people with Cambridge education and were not particularly gentlemanly. Another reason for bringing Jaikie home, I should have thought. Perhaps, Buchan intended to do so but did not quite get round to it.


  1. dfordoom Says:
  2. Buchan is a firm favourite of mine! Not only a seriously underrated writer but an amazingly versatile one. Apart from his spy thrillers he wrote some fine weird tales and even some stuff that is almost science fiction (like The Gap in the Curtain).

    I do think his fall from favour is mostly a result of his politics being considered unacceptable in today's dismal world of political correctness.

  3. Helen Says:
  4. Richard Usborne dismissed him as well in "Clubland Heroes" and that was not because of political correctness but because Usborne preferred upper class thugs to middle class ambition. The play of "The Thirty-Nine Steps" does the book no favours. Buchan is underrated though this particular book is not all that good.

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