The Free Fishers

I re-read The Free Fishers a few weeks ago, the first time for many years. From the moment I rejoined Mr Anthony Lammas, ‘whose long legs had been covering ground at the rate of five miles an hour’, I was bowled along, as always, by Buchan’s master story-telling and pace. One savoured the way the author, in a few swift sentences, conjured up the essence of the minor characters along the way: Lammas’ landlady, Mrs Babbie McKelvie, with her early call ‘It’s chappit five, Professor. Ye’ll mind ye maun be on the road by seven’; Duncan Dott, the town-clerk of the ancient and royal burgh of Waucht, an ‘honourable but laborious’ office; and John Cherrybrook with ‘that indescribable rakishness of gait, that wise cock of the head, and that parsimony of speech which marks all those whose work is with horses’. Sir Turnour Wyse, the gallant tornado; the fiendish Justin Cranmer and his endangered wife; Miss Kirsty Evanlade, ‘the best dowered lass in the kingdom of Fife’; and, of course the shadowy Free Fishers of the Forth, the secret brotherhood among the sea-folk, to the young ‘Nanty’ Lammas ‘the supreme authority of his world, far more potent than the King in London’, all contribute to the weal of the story. Read it! It’s a rattling good tale, set during the Napoleonic Wars, with a strong narrative drive; a study of evil and good, which is rarely black and white; where landscape and ‘a sense of place’ reinforces the plot; and which has the ability of enabling the reader to escape into a cloak-and-dagger world of intrigue, spying and danger.
Kenneth Hillier, 2001
Those who love Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels will find a lot to think about in Buchan’s only Regency novel, The Free Fishers. Her dashing whips and Nonesuches are mirrored in Buchan’s Sir Turnour Wyse, but he has more depth, more reality, than her two-dimensional frivolities.
Kate Macdonald, 2001

Available to read at