I love the idea of the 1924 book club and thought it would be a fantastic way to get me to pull something unread off the shelf and dive right in. It turned out to not be quite that simple. Simon and Kaggsy helpfully provided a list of some of the years best known/more easily available titles, a few of which I had. Unfortunately the ones I haven't read failed to raise any enthusiasm in me, and the ones I had didn't seem right for re-reading. 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' was looking hopeful but the date turned out to be wrong (damn you for raising false hope Internet). And then I found a copy of 'The Three Hostages'.
My knowledge of Buchan is mostly confined to various adaptations of 'The 39 Steps', I've had good intentions to actually read him for an age, and this was my chance. I've come out of the experience with mixed feelings.
Plot wise you just have to go with Buchan on this one. It doesn't always make a lot of sense and a lot of things are glossed over, but it's an effective thriller and I didn't mind that. There are some really exciting set pieces - even the last chapter which is mostly descriptions of mountaineering kept me gripped as a life and death struggle unfolded on a Scottish hillside.
Briefly, 3 people have been kidnapped, the daughter of a Rothschild style banker, the young son of a respected soldier, and the heir to a dukedom. They are to be leverage if some sort of international plot goes wrong (details never revealed but there are hints that Ireland is significant). Richard Hannay's help is sought in foiling these dastardly scoundrels, he is at first reluctant and then gets stuck in. Thanks to the help of his wife and various friends the forces of British decency prevail, but only just.
What I learnt about 1924 is how much resentment and distrust was felt towards the Irish, how ingrained racism was (not a huge surprise), how rampant snobbery and class distinctions still were, how emancipated Lady Hannay is (more surprising), a growing sympathy for Germany after the treaty of Versailles, and a deeply ingrained anti-semitism.
It's an interesting snapshot of attitudes at a specific point in time and is as effective a way as any of understanding what history has coming next. The attitude towards the Irish is particularly interesting, at first I assumed the villain was going to have his eye on, or be from, some Ruritanian style Balkan state, but he's Irish, at least on his mothers side. Celtic rather than Anglo Saxon, undoubtedly brilliant but also subtle, devious, mad, and without the moral code a proper Englishman should possess. Seeing this prejudice in print is new to me - the prejudice is not - and it's illuminating.
Reading this primarily because of the year it was published in, and thinking about what it could tell me about that year, was fun. Buchan knows how to tell a story, Hannay, jingoistic cliches and all is an entertaining character, and the concluding chapters are particularly good. It should come with a bit of a health warning though - there are attitudes which are fairly unpalatable to this modern reader and without treating it in part as a historical document I'm not sure I'd recommend it.