30 October 2017
‘plenty of spies and plenty of spirits, and even some unscrupulous journalists – something to keep all thrill-seekers entertained … tales of horror and excitement with a gentleman narrator’, The Times Literary Supplement, 6 July 2018
‘a clear, well produced edition of stories that are immensely readable … The production values of this book are very high and it is a sturdy paperback, ideal as a present to yourself or others. If you are a fan of Buchan you will love this final collection of his stories. If you are new to his writing this is a fine example of the adventurous story telling that he is justifiably famed for, and the sort of powerful writing which typified the age’, Julie Barham in Shiny New Books.
‘I would challenge anyone not be unsettled by the account of the dark forces released in the reconstruction of a Roman temple in ‘The Wind in the Portico’. The ending of that story could easily have been a vivid and gory end to a Hammer House of Horror film. ‘Dr. Lartius’ too draws on the supernatural but this time in the war effort against Germany in an early description of what could be called black propaganda. Pushed to state my favourite, I think I would have chosen this one. Like any group of storytellers, the Runagates are capable of light as well as shade. ‘The Frying-Pan and the Fire’ is almost a lighthearted parody of the deadly chase across the moor in The Thirty-Nine Steps while ‘Fullcircle’ is a delicate dissection of the pomposity of the chattering classes and the ease in which their principles can be overturned’, Colin Fisher in Vulpes Libris.
What’s it about?
The Runagates Club is John Buchan’s last collection of short stories, and is a classic of British interwar short fiction. These twelve stories were written from 1913 to 1927, when he was at the peak of his powers.
Buchan’s most popular character Richard Hannay battles an ancient curse in South Africa in ‘The Green Wildebeest’. Edward Leithen tags along in an assassins’ war in ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’. The Runagates Club features First World War spy and code-cracking thrillers ‘The Loathly Opposite’ and ‘Dr Lartius’; tales of supernatural possession in deepest Wales, comfortable Oxfordshire and the House of Commons, in ‘The Wind in the Portico’, Fullcircle’ and ‘”Tendebant Manus”’; and stories of survival in the far North and in Depression-era Canada with ‘Skule Skerry’ and ‘Ship to Tarshish’. There is farce too, in ‘The Frying-Pan and the Fire’ and ‘”Divus” Johnston’, and the riotous journalistic romp of ‘The Last Crusade’ is the last word on fake news, for all eras.
What makes The Runagates Club special is that Buchan designed it as a showcase to bring together the best of his magazine fiction. He repurposed these stories with new beginnings, framing them as after-dinner stories told over the port in a late 1920s private gentleman’s dining-club. The narrators are a ready-made cast of storytelling characters, and Buchan filled out their backgrounds to fit the patrician, clubland background. This is interwar story-telling at its very best.
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paperback: ISBN 978-1-9998280-1-1
Kindle / mobi: ISBN 978-1-9998280-8-0
ePub: ISBN 978-1-9998280-7-3
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Read a extract from the Introduction by Kate Macdonald:
‘ … The club is Buchan’s affirmation of masculine fellowship and common values: “they were of one family and totem, like old schoolfellows”. In this world women are all but irrelevant, as are families and children. In contrast, the men’s scholarly knowledge and military service are expected and necessary, as these factors have moulded their characters. Within the framework of the club’s history — Lord Lamancha adopts the name of the club from Psalm 68: “He letteth the runagates continue in scarceness”, because their dinners were at first “execrable” — the unnamed editorial narrator has “chosen” twelve stories to showcase the fabulous storytelling skills of the club members. The entertainingly non-conformist nature of their adventures reinforces their association as “runagates”, vagabonds and wanderers who do not follow the crowd.
The stories’ themes thus contrast amusingly with the social assurance of the club setting, and the characters’ secure positions in their world. A further contrast to this deeply-felt security is embedded in each story: the dominant emotion evoked in all of them is fear. Sometimes this fear is straightforwardly supernatural: ‘The Wind in the Portico’ and ‘Skule Skerry’ are two of Buchan’s most frightening stories, and the terrors in ‘The Green Wildebeest’ convince Hannay to adopt a very sober respect for African belief systems. Sometimes the fears are psychological (‘Ship to Tarshish’), possibly even psychiatric (‘“Tendebant Manus”’), and sometimes they are simply social (‘The Frying-Pan and the Fire’, and ‘“Divus” Johnston’). The reader is induced to feel the protagonists’ fears, either by narrative tension (‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’), or by the alarming changes observed in ‘Fullcircle’. ‘The Last Crusade’ tackles the public’s fear of manipulation by journalism and fake news. ‘The Loathly Opposite’ and ‘Dr Lartius’ are First World War stories that revisit the very recent fear of a military enemy, and the fear of the consequences of defeat.’