The Free Fishers, Paperback Book

The Free Fishers Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Set in the early years of the 19th century, this story is a tale of conspiracy, secret societies, foreign agents and a fiendish plot to assassinate the Prime Minister.

Anthony Lammas, a young professor of philosophy at St Andrews, becomes involved with a secret society - the Free Fishers.


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The Free Fishers is set in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, and involves a plot of murder and sedition. We get the story from the experience of Anthony Lammas, a prematurely grave professor in the college of St. Andrews. Anthony was raised on the coast and is the unofficial chaplain of the secret society of the Free Fishers. The Free Fishers have a sort of network strung all along the coast, with all the secret messages and missions that one could wish for. Anthony — or "Nanty," as he is nicknamed — sets off on an errand for the college, only to find he's actually been chosen for something quite different. He is to find the young Lord Belses and prevent him from fighting a duel over the honor of a Mrs. Cranmer, who is reputed to be a dangerous spy. But this is just the first strand in the web...So the stage is set for valiant deeds and gloomy castles, and moonlit chases over the heather. It was interesting how none of the characters are really given a glowing review at the start of the story, and I disliked all of them in varying degrees at first. But then as the story moves on, events draw out the best qualities of each player, and they start to look better against the backdrop of the action. By the time the tale was done, I was quite resigned to all of them, and even appreciated the ones who had seemed the most distasteful in the beginning. And yet Buchan always keeps us at arms' length from almost everyone. You get the feeling that you shouldn't pry. It's interesting to see Nanty swinging between the solemn gravity of his professorship and the rowdy fun of the Free Fishers. He reminded me of Stevenson's protagonists, outsiders caught up in something bigger than themselves. The story started off rather slowly until I hit the first moonlit chase, wherein revelations are made that suddenly glued me to the pages. That is where Buchan started turning over everything I thought I knew about the characters. One could wish for a little more time spent on the Free Fishers themselves, since the main fascination of secret societies is to uncover what makes them so secret. Ah well. The writing is quite good, and sometimes I would linger over certain phrases and descriptions that were particularly apt. This was my first Buchan, and while it's certainly nothing groundbreaking, I found it pleasantly diverting. David Daniell, who wrote the introduction for this edition, likens Buchan's style to that of both Stevenson and Scott, and I think that's a valid assessment. Fans of classics and of historical fiction will enjoy this story.