Novels - No special effects just guile - and a grasp of urban fabric
June 4, 2020 5:50 PM   Subscribe

I really enjoy reading John Buchan; The Thirty Nine Steps, Mr Standfast and Greenmantle (among others). The depth of feeling for individual people, places and regions draws me into these spaces. I'm seeking authors in the same genre, preferably set in the time from circa 1905 onwards up to now, ideally set mainly in Europe and Russia.

I've traveled slowly, quietly and sometimes discretely in some of the Buchan's places, so these books resonate with me. I also enjoy finding my way in new country and Buchan uses Hannay to explore unknown places which he knows little of beforehand.

Things I've found enjoyable/valuable include:
Robert Littell - a yardstick for this type of writing.

Andy McNabb's characters often explore urban areas essentially blind, but using a trained knowledge of urban planning to make reasoned guesses about the depth of land parcels, shape of streets and building internal layouts. However the writing standard has fallen off.

When I was 14 I read most of Dennis Wheatley's Gregory Salust novels, I wouldn't do them again now but they were enjoyable, but more fanciful than Buchan.
posted by unearthed to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Eric Ambler? His most famous novel is The Mask of Dimitrios / A Coffin for Dimitios (second is the US title).

I haven't read all of his work, but what I have read would probably fit your criteria of European adventures with an eye to urban fabric. He also has pretty good politics.

A slightly more contemporary author with a similar style (and writing about a similar period) might be Alan Furst. Night Soldiers is a good starting point, set in various parts of WW2 Europe.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:57 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Exploring urban areas essentially blind made me think of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 6:50 PM on June 4, 2020

You might enjoy some of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:14 PM on June 4, 2020

Possibly Anthony Price’s spy novels? Their built environments are generally battlefields, but sometimes also towns.
posted by clew at 9:31 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Freeman Wills Croft is in a similar vein to Buchan, and roughly contemporary to him. He was a prolific British mystery writer. The novels are workmanlike, with narratives often structured around infrastructure (trains, shipping timetables, etc). A good one to start with is The Pit Prop Syndicate.
posted by Morpeth at 1:54 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Could do worse than revisit the James Bond books.

Len Deighton's early novels and John le Carré. You want to get these guys before they started writing epic length. The IPCRESS File. Funeral in Berlin. The Spy who Came In From The Cold.

People I knew who liked Buchan also really enjoyed H. Rider Haggard although he's a bit early for your requirements.
posted by zadcat at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2020

You might enjoy Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household.
posted by darchildre at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2020

The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers. Definitely in the Buchan world, in fact you could write a whole essay comparing it with 39 Steps.
posted by zadcat at 12:57 PM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

And you might like this blog by a fellow who reads mostly, but not exclusively, adventure novels.
posted by zadcat at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2020

The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett.

A few of the up-thread suggestions are also available as free ebooks on Standard Ebooks (mefi previous), if you read on devices:
The Pit-Prop Syndicate
The Riddle of the Sands
Father Brown and other G.K. Chesterton
posted by Lirp at 4:52 PM on June 5, 2020

I"m not familiar with the authors listed here but based on your description I think you would like W.G. Sebald, especially The Rings of Saturn.
posted by perhapses at 6:13 PM on June 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much everyone

chappell, ambrose
Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming

I now have a whole slew of new spaces and places to discover. My local-ish eclectic bookshop will be happy too!
posted by unearthed at 12:08 AM on June 16, 2020

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