John Buchan (1875 – 1940)

john_buchan_-_featured_author_-_reduced3The Right Honourable John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC (26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940), was a Scottish novelist and politician who also served as Governor General of Canada. Born in Perth, Scotland, Buchan was educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry while a student at the latter. He had a genius for friendship which he retained all his life. His friends at Oxford included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert. Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to British colonial administrator Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner for South Africa, Governor of Cape Colony and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State—hence Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor, cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada. During World War I, he was a correspondent for The Times in France before becoming Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects, and became president of the Scottish Historical Society. Later he was for eight years M.P. for the Scottish Universities, was created Baron Tweedsmuir of Enfield, and became Governor-General of Canada.

Inspired by thriller master E. Phillips Oppenheim, his career as an author was very successful, and he produced many well-known works, including Prester John (1910), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), and Greenmantle (1916). The Thirty-Nine Steps later became even more famous when Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. He also wrote biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. His writing continued even after he was appointed Governor General. His later books included novels and histories and his views of Canada. He also wrote his autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, while in office. His wife was also a writer, producing many books and plays as Susan Buchan.

In recent years in common with many of his contemporaries, Buchan’s reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity. This is quite in keeping with the high degree of proficiency that he exhibits as a writer and novelist par excellence. Buchan was involved with British Intelligence during the First World War and may have had an involvement later. He had a reputation for discretion. He was a friend of T. E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and played a key role in Lawrence serving in the RAF in the 1920s under an assumed name. (Excerpts from Wikipedia and Gadetection).

The John Buchan Society was founded in 1979 to encourage continuing interest in his life, works and legacy. Visit the website ( and follow the Society on Twitter ( and Facebook (

The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by film makers as a much-used plot device. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches. One soldier wrote to Buchan, “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.” Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war, when he continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle (1916) and Mr Standfast (1919). The other two stories, The Three Hostages (1924) and The Island of Sheep (1936) were set in the post-war period, when Hannay’s opponents were criminal gangs. [Though I understand that The Courts of the Morning (1929) is sometimes included in Buchan’s Hannay series given that the prologue is narrated by Richard Hannay]. (Source: Wikipedia).


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. William Blackwood & Sons (UK), 1915)

From Wikipedia: The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure novel by the Scottish author John Buchan. It first appeared as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine in August and September 1915 before being published in book form in October that year by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh. It is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, an all-action hero with a stiff upper lip and a miraculous knack for getting himself out of sticky situations. The novel formed the basis for a number of successful adaptations, including several film versions and a long-running stage play.

Book Description: Adventurer Richard Hannay, just returned from South Africa, is thoroughly bored with London life-until he is accosted by a mysterious American, who warns him of an assassination plot that could completely destabilise the fragile political balance of Europe. Initially sceptical, Hannay nonetheless harbours the man-but one day returns home to find him murdered… An obvious suspect, Hannay flees to his native Scotland, pursued by both the police and a cunning, ruthless enemy. His life and the security of Britain are in grave peril, and everything rests on the solution to a baffling enigma: what are the ‘thirty nine steps?’ (Source: Goodreads).

The Thirty-Nine Steps has been reviewed, among others, at Past Offences, The Passing Tramp, and Books Please.

Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868 – 1947)

OIP (3)Marie Adelaide Elizabeth Rayner Lowndes, née Belloc (5 August 1868 – 14 November 1947), was a prolific English novelist. Active from 1898 until her death, she had a literary reputation for combining exciting incident with psychological interest. Her most famous novel, The Lodger (1913), based on the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, has been adapted for the screen five different times; the first movie version was Alfred Hitchcock’s silent film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), followed by Maurice Elvey’s in 1932, John Brahm’s in 1944, Man in the Attic in 1953, and David Ondaatje’s in 2009. Another novel of hers, Letty Lynton (1931), was the basis for the 1932 motion picture of the same name starring Joan Crawford.

Born in Marylebone, London and raised in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, Mrs Belloc Lowndes was the only daughter of French barrister Louis Belloc and English feminist Bessie Parkes. Her brother was Hilaire Belloc, whom she wrote of in her last work The Young Hilaire Belloc (published posthumously in 1956). Her paternal grandfather was the French painter Jean-Hilaire Belloc and her maternal great-grandfather was Joseph Priestley. In 1896 she married Frederick Sawrey A. Lowndes (1868-1940).

She published a biography, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales: An Account of His Career, in 1898. From then on novels, reminiscences and plays came from her quill at the rate of one per year until 1946. In the memoir, I, too, Have Lived in Arcadia, published in 1942, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes’ mother died in 1925, fifteen years before her father, and she told the story of her mother’s life, compiled largely from old family letters and her own memories of her early life in France. She continued her autobiography in 1948 in Where love and friendship dwelt. She died 14 November 1947 at the home of her elder daughter, Countess Iddesleigh (wife of the third Earl[1]) in Eversley Cross, Hampshire. She was interred in France, in La Celle-Saint-Cloud near Versailles, where she spent her youth. (From Wikipedia)

Mrs. Belloc Lowdnes (1868 – ) made two notable contributions to the fringe of detective fiction with The Chink in the Armour (1912), a psychological study from the point-of-view of the unsuspecting object of a murder plot, and The Lodger (1913), masterly fictional analysis of the Jack-the-Ripper murders. Mrs. Lowndes has published many later novels of her two memorable tours de force, but none of them has ever had the success of the originals. (Murder for Pleasure: The Life & Times of the Detective Story, by Howard Haycraft, first published in 1942)

The strength of The Lodger derives from its focus on the tensions of domestic life rather than lurid melodrama. ….. The Lodger became a bestseller, and its popularity endured; later admirers included Ernest Hemingway and Gertrud Stein.  (Martin Edwards at The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books)

Further reading:

27056The Lodger (1913), which Lowndes developed from a previous short story of the same title first published in McClure’s Magazine in 1911, concerns a series of Jack the Ripper-style murders, and it is her finest work.” The Lodger is included in Haycraft Queen Cornerstones definitive library of Mystery Fiction.

In 1888, a series of prostitutes was brutally murdered in the East End of London. These gruesome crimes filled the press and shook England with fear and intrigue. Marie Belloc Lowndes established her considerable reputation as a crime writer through her fictional account of these murders. Dealing with not only the psychology of “The Avenger”–her version of Jack the Ripper–but also with that of his landlady, Mrs. Bunting, who never gives away his secret, Lowndes creates an atmosphere of suspense, fear, and horror. (Source: Goodreads).

The Lodger has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File,Classic Mysteries and the crime segments.

Frederick Irving Anderson

Frederick Irving AndersonFrederick Irving Anderson (1877-1947) was an American journalist and short story writer, born in Illinois. He was a prolific contributor to The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines. Anderson began publishing fiction around 1910, before World War I, and was still at it up to the time of his death in 1947. He married Helen de Zouche, and retired after her death in 1937 to Vermont. There are four book collections of his short stories. But much of his work has never been published in book form. His character the Infallible Godahl is a self-proclaimed master criminal whose Watson is the writer Oliver Armiston. Both Godahl and the female jewel thief Sophie Lang manage to outwit the New York detective Deputy Parr.

Frederick Irving Anderson has shown perhaps the greatest mastery of the American short detective story . . . in ingenuity, command of plot, and the carefully integrated backgrounds of his work. So wrote the great mystery critic and historian, Howard Haycraft, in 1941. Ellery Queen added that his style is rich in detail and double-rich in expression. Many of his stories take place in New York City during the 1920s and the 1930s, and they feature the manhunter Deputy Parr and the ;extinct author, Oliver Armiston, who stopped writing ingenious crime stories because criminals were copying his gimmicks.

Read “The Unknown Masterpiece” by Frederick Irving Anderson. Published June 5, 1915, in the Post .

Further reading:

Short stories collections:

  • The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914) [“The Infallible Godahl”; “Blind Man’s Buff”; “The Night of a Thousand Thieves”; “Counterpoint”; “The Fifth Tube” and “An All-Star Cast”].
  • The Notorious Sophie Lang (1925) [“The Signed Masterpiece” (1921)”; “The Jorgensen Plates” 1922)].
  • Book of Murder (1930) [“Beyond All Conjecture” (1928); “The Japanese Parasol” (1926); “The Magician” (1925); “A Start in Life”  (1926); “The Recoil” (1929); “Gulf Stream Green” (1929) and “The Door Key” (1929)].
  • The Purple Flame and Other Detective Stories (2016) [“The Purple Flame” (1912); “The Phantom Alibi” (1920); “Wild Honey” (1921); “The Footstep” (1925); “The House of Many Mansions” (1928); “Hangman’s Truce” (1928); “Vivace-Ma Non Troppo” (1929); “Thumbs Down” (1930); “The Two Martimos” (1930); “The Pandora Complex” (1932); “Unfinished Business” (1933); “At Early Candlelight” (1937); “What Is the Goat’s Name?” (1937); “Murder in Triplicate” (1946) and “The Man from the Death House” (1951)].

As far back as 1914, Frederick Irving Anderson (1877 – ), one of the best known magazine authors of his generation, had turned his attention to crime with the episodic adventures of The Infallible Godahl. A later series of related short stories dealt with the career of The Notorious Sophie Lang (memorialized in several cinema incarnations). Neither of these efforts represented pure detection, but the seed was planted. A character who had appeared in both series was Deputy Parr of the New York police. Beginning in 1921, Parr was given a series of his own in The Saturday Evening Post. The stories covered a leisurely decade an d then were collected in The Book of Murder (1930). Because of his small output between permanent covers, Frederick Irving Anderson has escaped the attention of many devotees of the form; yet it is no exaggeration to say that he has shown perhaps  the greatest mastery of the American short detective story of any writer since Melville Davisson Post, whom he greatly resembles in ingenuity, command of plot, and the carefully integrated backgrounds of his work. Like Post, also, his stories have a quality of timelessness which makes them as readable to-day as when they were written. (Murder for Pleasure: The Life & Times of the Detective Story, by Howard Haycraft. Dover Publications, 2019).


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Thomas Y. Crowell Company (USA), 1914)

The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl, by Frederick Irving Anderson. Six short stories featuring a roguish master thief: “The Infallible Godahl”; “Blind Man’s Buff”; “The Night of a Thousand Thieves”; “Counterpoint”; “The Fifth Tube” and “An All-Star Cast”.

This book narrates six adventures of a remarkable master thief. Otto Penzler says it best in TAD, Volume 19, Number 2, Pages 158-159, “He (Frederick Irving Anderson) is one of the distinguished short-story writers in the history of the American short story in general, and the short crime story in particular.” “The Infallible Godahl”, the first of Anderson’s creations, is the most perfect criminal mind ever devised. He does not rely on luck or daring to achieve his ends; he employs flawless logic. It is his belief that, if he thinks a problem through to its logical end, it will be impossible for him to get caught. He achieves his aims so impeccably that he has not only never been caught, but he has never even been suspected of a crime.” He states further that this book, “is surely one of the great cornerstone volumes in the far-reaching world of mystery fiction. The omission of the book from Queen’s Quorum, Ellery Queen’s selection of the 125 most important volumes of detective short stories, is one of the major flaws in that otherwise excellent work.”  (Source: AbeBooks IberLibro).

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