Hannay is called in to investigate rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world, and undertakes a perilous journey through enemy territory to meet his friend Sandy in Constantinople. Once there, he and his friends must thwart the Germans' plans to use religion to help them win the war, climaxing at the battle of Erzurum.
The book opens in November 1915, with Hannay and his friend Sandy convalescing from wounds received at the Battle of Loos. Sir Walter Bullivant, a senior intelligence officer, summons Hannay to the Foreign Office. Bullivant briefs Hannay on the political situation in the Middle East, suggesting that the Germans and their Turkish allies are plotting to create a Muslim uprising, that will throw the Middle East, India and North Africa into turmoil. Bullivant proposes that Hannay investigate the rumours, following a clue left on a slip of paper with the words "Kasredin", "cancer" and "v.I" written by Bullivant's son a spy, who was recently killed in the region.
Despite misgivings, Hannay accepts the challenge, and picks Sandy to help him. Bullivant says that American John Blenkiron will also be useful. The three meet, ponder their clues, and head to Constantinople. Starting on 17 November, they plan to meet at a hostelry exactly two months later, going each by his own route - Blenkiron travelling through Germany as an observer, Sandy travelling through Asia Minor, using his Arab contacts, and Hannay entering enemy territory via Lisbon under a Boer guise.
John Buchan (1875–1940) was a Scottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since Canadian Confederation.
After a brief legal career, Buchan simultaneously began his writing career and his political and diplomatic careers, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in southern Africa. He eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort in the First World War.