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The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)

by John Buchan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Richard Hannay stories (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3951621,816 (3.53)549
In the days leading up to the First World War, typical everyman Richard Hannay finds himself caught in the middle of an anarchist plot to plunge Europe into chaos by assassinating the Greek Premier. However, when his American contact is murdered, Hannay makes it his duty to elude his enemies and save the Greek leader.… (more)

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» See also 549 mentions

English (156)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (159)
Showing 1-5 of 156 (next | show all)
What the thriller was before James Bond came along: more thinking about moral courage and less thinking about sex. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
Wild, entertaining, and throughly unbelievable: I enjoyed this early pioneer of spy fiction/the thriller genre. It's just the thing for a rainy afternoon. ( )
  katelynreads | Jun 30, 2020 |
A fairly engaging quick read but contains some overtly racist descriptions. I'm not likely to read any more of John Buchan's 'shockers'. ( )
  Georgina_Watson | Jun 14, 2020 |
John Buchan was, according to Christopher Hitchens, "the father of the modern spy thriller". But, as the introduction to this, his most famous novel, explains, he was a writer "of his time". That's code for "bigoted".

In a famous passage in this novel -- the conspiracy theory par excellence -- a leading character tells the book's hero that "if you're on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man ruling the world just now ..."

Stuart Kelly's introduction dismisses this as the ranting of a character which will be dismissed later in the book, but the narrator himself has throw-away lines like "when a Jew shoots himself in the City and there is an inquest, the newspapers usually report that the deceased was 'well-nourished'."

It may well have been the basis of a classic Hitchcock film, but this 1915 novel has little by way of plot (basically, the hero is running away from villains, escaping them by a combination of his own brilliance at disguise, and dumb luck). Not convincing, not interesting, and "of its time" in the very worst sense of the word. ( )
  ericlee | Jun 3, 2020 |
Although this feels like ‘nothing new’ it’s amazing to think it was all new when it was written in 1915.

It’s fun to have read the beginning of a genre. ( )
  streamsong | May 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 156 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (57 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Buchanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ardizzone, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harvie, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hynynen, AnssiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keegan, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praetzellis, AdrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My Dear Tommy,
You and I have long cherished an affection for that elementary type of tale which Americans call the 'dime novel' and which we know as the 'shocker' - the romance where the incidents defy probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible. During an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those aids to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for myself. This little volume is the result, and I should like to put your name on it in memory of our long friendship, in the days when the wildest fictions are so much less improbable than the facts.

J. B.
First words
Richard Hannay is not, on the face of it, the most exciting of adventurers, yet more than any other hero he has come to embody the man of action pitted against the forces of misrule. (Introduction)
I returned from the City about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Among the first espionage thrillers and an acknowledged classic, The Thirty-Nine Steps well deserves its accolades as one of the best adventure stories of all time. Leaving aside the improbable denouement, the fast paced, brilliantly conceived narrative still excites and carries one along with the sheer suspense of the manhunt - a recurring theme in literature - and Hannay’s struggle against the evil that is the ‘Black Stone'.
May 1914: Europe is close to war and spies are everywhere. Richard Hannay has arrived back in London to begin a new life, when a spy called Scudder asks for help to uncover a German plot to murder the Greek prime minister in London and to steal British plans for the outbreak of war. He claims to be following a ring of German spies called the Black Stone. A few days later, Scudder is murdered. Hannay is forced to continue Scudder’s work and is chased across Scotland both by police and German spies. The solution to the mysterious phrase 'Thirty-Nine Steps' is a thread that runs through the whole story.
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Average: (3.53)
0.5 4
1 12
1.5 3
2 77
2.5 35
3 300
3.5 95
4 310
4.5 28
5 129

Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441178, 0141031263, 0141194723

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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