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John Burnet of Barns by John Buchan

John Burnet of Barns

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This is John Buchan's first full-length work of fiction written towards the end of the 19th century and set in the 17th century. It's a tale of adventure in the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson. It tells the story of two lifelong rivals - John Burnet of Barns and his cousin Captain Gilbert Burnet. Returning home to the Scottish Borders John, the last of an ancient line of Border Reivers, finds Gilbert has denounced him as an agent of the covenanters, making him an outlaw. betrayed by his ruthless cousin and having lost everything he holds dear, John must fight just to stay alive.

From the Introduction by Sir Tam Dalyell in John Burnet of Barns:

I doubt if John Burnet of Barns will ever oust The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle and other later novels for pride of place in the nation's estimation (or the tracts published in 1934, six years before he died, Gordon of Khartoum and Oliver Cromwell, from the author's pride of place - he yearned to be venerated as a seroius historian). But, I do applaud Birlinn for republishing John Burnet of Barns. For two reasons above all, in my view, it is a ripping good yarn. And, it is a book which lends itself to reading to children by parents, at an age when it is important that they be read to.


John Burnet of Barns by John Buchan

John Burnet of Barns was Buchan's first fully realised, full-length work of fiction. It tells the story of two young noblemen - John Burnet, heir to the ancient house of Barns the last in a long line of Border reivers, and his cousin, Captain Gilbert Burnet, a dashing, ruthless soldier. Their lifelong rivalry results in treachery, betrayal and a desperate struggle for survival.


'Buchan knew that you can't buck the consequences of your actions, and that your life is what you make of it. Perhaps his peculiarly Scottish combination of Romanticism and Calvinism - daring living and high thinking - is due to return to fashion.' - The Independent Magazine

About the Author

John Buchan

John Buchan led a truly extraordinary life: he was a diplomat, soldier, barrister, journalist, historian, politician, publisher, poet and novelist. He was born in Perth in 1875, the eldest son of a Free Church of Scotland minister, and educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar School in Glasgow. He graduated from Glasgow University then took a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford. During his time there – ‘spent peacefully in an enclave like a monastery’ – he wrote two historical novels.

In 1901 he became a barrister of the Middle Temple and a private secretary to the High Commissioner for South Africa. In 1907 he married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor; they had three sons and a daughter. After spells as a war correspondent, Lloyd George’s Director of Information and a Conservative MP, Buchan – now Sir John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield - moved to Canada in 1935 where he had been appointed Governor-General.

Despite poor health throughout his life, Buchan’s literary output was remarkable – thirty novels, over sixty non-fiction books, including biographies of Sir Walter Scott and Oliver Cromwell, and seven collections of short stories. In 1928 he won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary prize for his biography of the Marquis of Montrose. Buchan’s distinctive thrillers – ‘shockers’ as he called them – were characterised by suspenseful atmosphere, conspiracy theories and romantic heroes, notably Richard Hannay (based on the real-life military spy William Ironside) and Sir Edward Leithen. Buchan was a favourite writer of Alfred Hitchcock, whose screen adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps was phenomenally successful.

John Buchan served as Governor-General of Canada until his death in 1940, the year his autobiography Memory Hold-the-door was published. His last novel Sick Heart River was published posthumously in 1941.

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Book Info

Publication date

15th August 2008


John Buchan

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Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited an imprint of Birlinn General


304 pages


Action Adventure / Spy
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Classic fiction (pre c 1945)



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