Castle Gay is the ninth book in my John Buchan reading project – Buchan of the Month. To find out more about the project and my reading list for 2018, click here. If you would like to read along with me you will be very welcome – leave a comment on this post or on my original challenge post.
According to his first biographer, Janet Adam Smith, Buchan seldom read reviews of his novels. She reports him telling his wife, “If writers mind bad reviews, they shouldn’t write books.” I’ll be sharing my review later this month. What follows is an introduction to the book (no spoilers!).
Castle Gay was published in the UK in July 1930 by Hodder & Stoughton and in the US in August 1930 by Houghton Mifflin. Unlike many of Buchan’s earlier novels, it had not first appeared in serial form.
Its protagonist is Dickson McCunn, the retired middle-aged Glasgow grocer first introduced to readers in Huntingtower (last month’s Buchan of the Month). Janet Adam Smith notes that, as Buchan’s wrote his books to make money, he often kept on characters who had ‘won the public’s affection’. Thus Castle Gay also sees the return of two members of the gang of street urchins known as the ‘Gorbals Die-Hards’ who, thanks to the support of Dickson McCunn, are now going up in the world. There are other cross-references as well. Tombs, the left-wing politician, who first appeared in Mr. Standfast pops up in Castle Gay, just as Archie Roylance, also from Mr. Standfast, had a minor role in Huntingtower.
David Daniell, author of The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of the Work of John Buchan, feels Castle Gay is ‘not Buchan at his best’ but admits the book does contain some ‘striking images and scenes’ especially once the rival factions from the fictional central European country of Evallonia arrive on the scene. Buchan scholar, Kate MacDonald, is a little more generous noting that the novel marks a departure for Buchan: ‘It is not a thriller, although it contains thriller elements.’ However, she admits it achieves only ‘a few moments of true tension’. Nevertheless she commends it as ‘a delightful read, with a gentle and entertaining plot, rather than an action-packed adventure’.
Dickson McCunn was to feature in one final Buchan novel –The House of the Four Winds (1935). Hodder & Stoughton published a compendium of the three McCunn novels in 1937 under the title The Adventures of Dickson McCunn. Castle Gay was a reasonable commercial success but did not perform as well as Huntingtower. Janet Adam Smith reports that by 1960 Castle Gay had combined sales of 151,000 (compared with 230,000 for Huntingtower) . The paperback edition of Castle Gay published later by Penguin had sold 53,000 copies by June 1964, again falling short of the 104,000 copies achieved by Huntingtower.
David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of the Work of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)
Kate Macdonald, John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction (McFarland, 2009)
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 )