Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Hannay, a moderately wealthy South African, takes an undercover tour of this placid setting and comes to know Scotland as a place of great, though subtle, beauty. The rural people with whom he interacts are distrustful of strangers but generous to a fault, especially to those down on their luck. The positive representations of the Scottish people and of Scotland reflect John Buchan’s own Scottish upbringing.
More important from the point of view of the novel, the peaceful country and virtuous inhabitants are used to emphasize the familiar espionage contrast between hidden dangers and surface placidity. Like many other spy novels, this one uses setting as theme, and appearances are deceiving. In fact, the Scottish setting allows for a two-fold incorporation of this theme since both the assassins and Hannay go under cover. The assassins do so in order to carry out their criminal scheme, and Hannay does so in order to save his own life. This irony is not only situational but also dramatic, since Hannay shares his hard-won knowledge with readers. Hence, readers also understand the falsity of appearances.
Seaside housing development. Collection of resort villas on the coast of England, presented as typically English. This setting is highly significant, although it is presented only in the final chapters of the novel. Close to the end of the work, Hannay convinces various government ministers of the reality of an assassination plot and works with them to arrest the assassins. To do this, Hannay must penetrate the disguises of the villains, who take the covers of middle-class Englishmen.
This coastal setting concludes the novel and provides final emphasis to the theme of deceptive appearances. Only at the very end of the novel are the seemingly English inhabitants revealed as German spies.
*London. Great Britain’s capital city provides the novel’s opening setting and is sketchily presented as a place of boredom for Hannay. The fashionable sights and sounds of pre-World War I London pale quickly for this man of adventure, who has earned his fortune in the rough and tumble of South Africa’s diamond fields. To Hannay and the readers, London quickly turns into a familiar facade, behind which devious operators execute hidden and malicious schemes. This theme is introduced through a secondary character who intrudes himself on the narrator and spins a paranoid and anti-Semitic tale of espionage and assassination. This secondary character impresses Hannay so much that Hannay begins to take on his worldview and perceive the falsity of surfaces. When Hannay flees London into rural Scotland, he takes this learned view with him.
London settings also allow Buchan to introduce a minor theme, that of the contrast between urban flaccidity and rural hardiness. In contrast to the later Scottish setting, the London of the novel is too tame a place in which to live, and Hannay longs for some adventure to revive his flagging spirit.