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The Power-House by John Buchan

The Power-House (1916)

by John Buchan

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Not among Buchan's finest work but still a very enjoyable example of his early "shockers". This book is also notable for introducing Edward (later Sir Edward) Leithen, perhaps the closest of Buchan's characters to a self portrait.
The story opens in 1913 with Charles Pitt-Heron,one of Leithen's acquaintances, disappearing from London without notice but apparently in great terror for his life.
Another mutual acquaintance, Tommy Doloraine, goes off after Pitt-heron intent upon finding him and returning him to London society. Left in London Leithen, who splits his time between a flourishing career at the Bar and the Houses of parliament where he is a newly-returned MP, starts looking into Pitt-Heron's affairs calling upon his wide network of contacts. By dint of coincidence (never very far away throughout Buchan's canon) he comes into contact with Andrew Lumley, a reclusive millionaire philanthropist who has recently had dealings of a covert nature with Pitt-Heron. Over what Leithen describes as "a light dinner" (before going on to describe the four sumptuous courses!) Lumley expounds his belief in the fragility of civilisation, citing what was to be come one of the most-quoted of Buchan's line: "You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass." That fragility and potential vulnerability of the civilised world became a recurrent theme throughout his later works.
Predicatbly, Lumley emerges as the leading figure in a network bent upon wreakling just that collapse of civilisation and a return to virtual barbarism, and only Leithen is able to stand in his way.
This might all sound ratehr too whimsical, and certainly there is none of the gritty realism to which we have become accustomed today. however, leithen is a finely-drawn character and a man on great resource, and he sets himself to oppose Lumley and to do what he can to rescue his friend Pitt-Heron.
The novel is prophetic in many ways - not least in identifying the future financial power of the then slumbering giant that was China - and is written with Buchan's customary beautiful prose. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jan 4, 2013 |
Edward Leithen learns from Tommy Deloraine that a mutual friend, Charles Pitt-Heron, has suddenly left England, without letting anyone know why or his destination. Deloraine confides that for some time Pitt-Heron had been visited by a strange crowd of people, many of them foreign; that he had become increasingly secretive; and that recently he had looked harassed, and even frightened. Having learnt that Pitt-Heron had obtained a special Embassy passport, and always on the lookout for an adventure, Deloraine declares his intention of tracking his friend down, to help him if possible.

But it is Leithen who finds adventure. A series of coincidences informs him about some of the people with whom Pitt-Heron had become involved, including wealthy art collector, Andrew Lumley. Visiting Lumley's house in his absence, supposedly to examine a recent purchase of Wedgwood, Leithen finds a discarded telegram which reveals that Pitt-Heron is in deadly danger, and uses his connections in the diplomatic service to put both Deloraine and the police on his trail and on that of his pursuers. Soon afterwards, Leithen has an encounter with Lumley himself: an elderly man, but one with a disturbingly compelling manner, who speaks - in purely theoretical terms - of the terrible vulnerability of civilisation, and the possibilities of international anarchy...

The Power-House is the first of five novels featuring Edward Leithen, lawyer and Member of Parliament; a character who became increasingly John Buchan's alter-ego. The five novels, very different from one another, were published over some twenty-five years, and reflect the various phases of Buchan's own remarkable political career.

Serialised in 1913, and published in 1916, The Power-House is an entertaining if improbable tale of the accidental uncovering of a dangerous international conspiracy. Leithen himself is an unlikely sort of hero, almost deliberately dull and set in his ways, although only in his mid-thirties; yet rising to the occasion when a series of connecting details revealed to him through his legal and political duties begin to suggest the existence of a deadly worldwide organisation committed to the overthrow of the rule of law. Told well enough to keep the reader engaged, the story nevertheless suffers from, on one hand, an overabundance of coincidences, and on the other, Leithen's obstinate determination to take care of everything himself, with only the erratic help of hot-tempered, two-fisted Labour MP, Chapman, rather than go to the police, even when it becomes frighteningly clear that his life is in imminent danger.

Nevertheless, there is something oddly moving about The Power-House. Penned in 1913, with war clouds gathering on the horizon, the tale clings to an almost desperate hope that what Edward Leithen calls "the goodwill of civilisation" might yet prevail in the world; the story is that of the forces of law defeating those of barbarism and anarchy. But as we now know, by the time Buchan's determinedly optimistic novella was published, its dream lay shattered in the trenches of Europe.

"You have put your finger on the one thing that matters. Civilisation is a conspiracy. What value would your police be if every criminal could find a sanctuary across the Channel, or your law courts, if no other tribunal recognised their decisions? Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences. And it will succeed till the day comes when there is another compact to strip them bare."
3 vote lyzard | Sep 3, 2011 |
This is a short mystery / adventure novel , takes place in London in the early 1900's. It wasn't that moving of a book , seemed to drag on to much. ( )
  cassidotson | Aug 12, 2011 |
A short novel that is gripping and exciting; set in England before 1939. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 22, 2010 |
At a little over 100 pages, it really shouldn't have taken me five days to get through this. For me this was an adventure story that didn't really seem to get going until a chase to a London embassy that occurs towards the end. I've enjoyed The 39 Steps on page, on screen and on the stage, but The Power House was, by comparison, a disappointment. ( )
  dsc73277 | Dec 28, 2009 |
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It all started one afternoon early in May when I came out of the House of Commons with Tommy Deloraine.
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A group of anarchists known as the Power-House sees all of civilization as a vast and sinister conspiracy, something to be overcome and destroyed. Standing up against the Power-House is Tory member of Parliament and lawyer Edward Leithen, a self-described man of hesitation whose stance thrusts him into a reality he never knew existed. London becomes a sinister underworld in which he could be spirited away at any moment, never to be heard from again. Leithen quickly falls into a maze of paranoia, knowing that if he fails to stop the Power-House, their anarchy will consume the world. [From the Open Road Media website]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0460022431, Paperback)

This book is a facsimile reprint and may contain imperfections such as marks, notations, marginalia and flawed pages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

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