My interest in old adventure fiction continues to grow with a rediscovery of a pile of John Buchan books I’d been given for Christmas years ago and turned my nose up at. I thought I’d kick off with The Thirty-Nine Steps, but I couldn’t find that one so I nipped into Borders and bought a copy, in an omnibus volume with the much less famous The Power House. The Highlands bits of 39 Steps are a tour de force of course, but in many ways it’s The Power House that’s the more intriguing book.

It hinges formally on an amusing conceit – a thriller whose scope takes in Russia and Central Asia but whose action never leaves Britain and indeed barely strays from the hero’s London flat and dining club. Edward Leithen (later to star in other Buchan novels which I’ve not read) is a delightfully passive hero, wandering half by accident through a particularly nebulous plot. The shadowy and elusive nature of The Power House’s threat is one part of what makes it so interesting – it’s possible until quite near the novel’s climax to believe Leithen is imagining the existence of a conspiracy, and it’s never clear exactly what is being conspired and to what end. The conspiracy, indeed, may be entirely a one-man job, the whim of a particularly philosophical villain. This villain is really the book’s one unforgettable creation, more sinister than fifty German spies, and he seems to have stepped out of a later fictional era entirely, one where evil is all the more pervasive for being almost motiveless. It helps that Buchan can pull of the rare trick of writing high intelligence effectively. Though all naturally ends well, it’s hard not to close the book without a feeling that much remains unresolved.