During the First World War, Buchan was Director of Information and later of Intelligence. He served as an MP then became Lord Tweedsmuir and ended his career as Governor-General of Canada. However, he is better remembered as the creator of Richard Hannay, hero of a series of adventure novels that blend Buchan's sense of duty, his love of country, and his own experiences at the heart of intelligence. While many of his attitudes may strike modern readers as racist and right wing, there is no denying the genuine excitement of the novels.
Begin with The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), a rattling yarn of pursuit and politics. Hannay is given cryptic but crucial information by an informant who is murdered almost immediately afterwards. Suspected of the crime, Hannay goes on the run to protect his information and save his country from the German enemy. The book has been filmed more than once—a classic Hitchcock version featuring Robert Donat and one less exciting, though more faithful to the book, starring Robert Powell.
Hannay returns in Greenmantle (1916), where he attempts to stop the Germans mobilizing the Arabs into a Holy War against the British empire. In The Three Hostages (1924), Hannay is forced into a head-to-head struggle with the charismatic hypnotist Medina in his bid to rescue three young people held hostage by a criminal combine determined to cash in on post-war chaos. Also worth reading are Mr Standfast (1918) and the non-Hannay John Macnab (1925).