Welcome to Part Nine of our latest Tale for Our Time, a thriller of international intrigue whose repercussions will echo through the chancelleries of Europe - as conjured by John Buchan in his 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps. Mark Steyn Club first-month Founding Member Yvonne LeBlanc is glued to her receiving apparatus:
I've become addicted to The Thirty-Nine Steps. What a great spinner of yarns was John Buchan. Thanks for introducing me to him.
By the way, I believe in the first installment Hannay was reading the biography of Stonewall Jackson. Oh dear, by modern standards he would be considered a racist.
Thanks for that, Yvonne. Buchan was, indeed, a great spinner of yarns - but I had no idea we were living so dangerously. Obviously it's totally racist to read a book in which a character reads another book about someone subsequently deemed to be racist. By now it may be even more racist to read a book in which a character reads a book in which a character passes a library known to contain a book subsequently deemed racist. Best to read nothing at all.
In tonight's episode Richard Hannay is back in Britain's capital city, but increasingly frustrated:
I walked back through fields and lines of villas and terraces and then slums and mean streets, and it took me pretty nearly two hours. All the while my restlessness was growing worse. I felt that great things, tremendous things, were happening or about to happen, and I, who was the cog-wheel of the whole business, was out of it... How could it be otherwise? It was not likely that Cabinet Ministers and Admiralty Lords and Generals would admit me to their councils.
So he goes for a spot of dinner in St James's, which always helps:
I walked down Jermyn Street, and at the corner of Duke Street passed a group of young men. They were in evening dress, had been dining somewhere, and were going on to a music-hall. One of them was Mr Marmaduke Jopley.
He saw me and stopped short.
'By God, the murderer!' he cried. 'Here, you fellows, hold him! That's Hannay, the man who did the Portland Place murder!'
I always get asked about the music for our stories. In this case I picked "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood", the definitive Scottish concert overture - a lyrical paean to the very landscape Richard Hannay was fleeing across. It was composed in 1887 by a teenager - Hamish MacCunn. He died the year after The Thirty-Nine Steps was published, and this overture remains his most popular work, in his native land and beyond.
If you're thinking, "Hang on, wasn't there some interlude music in Episode Two? That doesn't sound like Hamish MacCunn", well, you're right. For the moment when Hannay hightails it out of his flat and heads to St Pancras to catch the train to Scotland, I chose a famous piece of music about a famous train, the Coronation Scot. Which is a wee bit anachronistic, as the train was named in honor of the coronation in 1937 of George VI, the king whose landmark Canadian tour Buchan subsequently organized. The music has outlived the train, written by one of Britain's great light-music composers, Vivian Ellis. I knew Vivian in later years, although I couldn't honestly say he liked me terribly much, and - more importantly - nor did his fearsome and very dominant sister Hermione. I was once asked to work with Vivian on updating an old musical of his, and it didn't go too well. Still, he gave Sting a big hit in the Eighties with "Spread a Little Happiness", and invited him to lunch at the Garrick Club, but had to loan him a tie.
At any rate, I thought "Coronation Scot" was perfect for that particular moment in the book - especially as it was also the theme music for "Paul Temple", the long-running BBC radio serial about a gentleman detective. Vivian wrote it, or so he told me, on the train from Paddington to Somerset - so heading west, not north to Scotland.
Okay, that's enough pop trivia. If you've yet to hear any of our first Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. Membership is available now - and, if you sign up, you'll be all set for Part Ten of The Thirty-Nine Steps this time tomorrow. And, if you've a friend who likes classic fiction, don't forget our special Gift Membership.