Book Review: The Courts of the Morning by John Buchan #ReadJB2019

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The Courts of the MorningAbout the Book

South America is the setting for this adventure from the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. When Archie and Janet Roylance decide to travel to the Gran Seco to see its copper mines they find themselves caught up in dreadful danger; rebels have seized the city. Janet is taken hostage in the middle of the night and it is up to the dashing Don Luis de Marzaniga to aid her rescue.

Format: Hardcover (484 pp.)     Publisher: Nelson
Publication date:   [1929]          Genre: Adventure

Find The Courts of the Morning on Goodreads

My Review

The Courts of the Morning is the eighth book in my Buchan of the Month reading project. (Yes, that’s right it was my Buchan of the Month for August and it’s now September. Oops!) You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2019 here and read my (spoiler-free) introduction to The Courts of the Morning here.

The Courts of the Morning sees the return of several characters from earlier books, including Sandy Arbuthnot (now Lord Clanroyden), John S Blenkiron, Archie Roylance and Geordie Hamilton. Richard Hannay (now Sir Richard) appears briefly to introduce the story which is set mainly in the fictional South American country of Olifa.

Olifa is an apparently prosperous and peaceful country whose capital, Olifa City, seems to offer the perfect location for the honeymoon of Sir Archie Roylance and wife Janet. But not everything is as it seems. As one character comments, “Olifa is a mask. You have not seen her face”. Behind the scenes, sinister forces are at work in the province of Gran Seco, a copper-mining district in the north of the country. The lucrative mining concern is the personal fiefdom of Gran Seco’s governor, Castor, who has surrounded himself with a bodyguard of nefarious individuals, ruthlessly exploited the indigenous Indian population and found a way to control the will of the so-called Conquistadors in order that they are prepared to do his bidding. “He [Castor] rules the Gran Seco and its officials are altogether his creation. And since he rules the Gran Seco, he rules Olifa.”

Castor represents an example of the classic Buchan villain: charming, intelligent but utterly without morals. He also embodies dangers Buchan foresaw that now seem remarkably prescient. As Sandy observes, “…the world today is stuffed with megalomania. Megalomania in politics, megalomania in business, megalomania in art – there are many kinds. You have the man who wants to be a dictator in his own country, you have the man who wants to corner a dozen great businesses and control the finance of half the world, you have the man who wants to break down the historic rules of art and be a law to himself. The motive is the same in every case – rootlessness, an unbalanced consciousness of ability, and an overweening pride.”

The main part of the book involves Sandy adopting his customary range of disguises and aliases in order to foil Castor’s plans by leading a popular revolt. Aided by Archie, Janet and local revolutionary leader, Luis de Marzaniga, Castor is kidnapped and taken to the rebels’ mountain base, the Courts of the Morning of the title. At times, there is a little too much detail about the mechanics of the revolt however there are also sections of page-turning suspense as characters make daring escapes from seemingly certain death.

Buchan never visited South America so the descriptions of the landscape of Olifa probably draw on his memories of South Africa. At times, the countryside he depicts also resembles the glens and mountains of Scotland that he knew so well.

The Courts of the Morning displays many of the storytelling skills for which Buchan is renowned but, for me, the book gets a little too bogged down in detail at times. The remarkable transformation in one character (or as Sandy describes it ‘a try at saving your soul’) that occurs in the final part of the book some may find hopeful but others may find unrealistic.

September’s Buchan of the Month is his historical novel, The Blanket of the Dark. Look out for my introduction to the book shortly and (I hope) my review later this month.

John BuchanAbout the Author

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man.  He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada.  In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War.   Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  However, in his lifetime he published over 100 books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.

You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.

buchan of the month 2019