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The thirty-nine steps by John Buchan

The thirty-nine steps (original 1915; edition 1964)

by John Buchan (Author), Edward Ardizzone (Illustrator)

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Title:The thirty-nine steps
Authors:John Buchan (Author)
Other authors:Edward Ardizzone (Illustrator)
Info:London : Dent, 1964. Hardcover. 145 pages
Collections:Favorites, Wishlist, To buy used
Tags:20th century, adventure, chase, conspiracy, Edward Ardizzone, England, espionage, fiction, hardcover, illustrated, juvenilia, London, memory, murder, music hall, mystery, novel, police, public speaking, published 1915, rail, Scotland, series, spy, suspense, thriller, UK author

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The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (Author) (1915)

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Also read in June 1993

The Rupert Penry-Jones adaption that I finally watched drove me back to read because, really, there were no suffragettes or traitors or strafing runs (R P-J gazing was the main reason to watch). The book is an old-fashioned TGR with lots of action and derring-do. The only complaint is that it just ENDS. Very abruptly because he was done, I'm guessing, but a bit startling.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |

John Buchan wrote "The Thirty-Nine Steps" while he was seriously ill at the beginning of World War I. In it, he introduces his most famous hero, Richard Hannay, who, despite claiming to be an "ordinary fellow", is caught up in the dramatic race against a plot to devastate the British war effort. Hannay is hunted across the Scottish moors by police and a pitiless enemy in the corridors of Whitehall and, finally, at the site of the mysterious 39 steps. The best-known of Buchan's thrillers, this novel has been continuously in print since first publication and has been filmed three times.

Other Buchan "World Classics" include "Witchwood" and "Greenmantle".

My take......

I doubt I will be providing much original thought on this classic book which was published 99 years ago. It has 460 reviews on Amazon UK – soon to be 461, and nearly 10,000 ratings on Goodreads.The Thirty-Nine Steps introduces us to Richard Hannay, who subsequently figures in 4 more novels by Buchan, none of which I have read.
They are;
2. Greenmantle (1916)
3. Mr Standfast (1918)
4. The Three Hostages (1924)
5. The Island of Sheep (1936)

As an aside, the time-span between the 4th and 5th books is interesting, I wonder why? Saying that - Buchan did live an interesting and full life...at various times....Unionist MP, Governor of Canada, Government War propagandist, Army enlistment, diplomatic service in South Africa, church elder, novelist.

We open and Hannay is restless and in need of an adventure to stimulate him. One soon arrives in the appearance of a stranger who enlists Hannay’s help in hiding him. The man, Scudder has faked his death and tells Hannay he is being followed by a German gang of spies. Scudder confides that he has uncovered a plot to kill the Greek Premier and also that there is a scheme afoot to steal British plans that have been prepared in the event of an outbreak of war. Scudder is discovered murdered the next day in Hannay’s flat and Richard, a likely suspect in the murder flees, managing to evade the Germans who are watching him.

A sense of obligation and duty compels Hannay to try and thwart the assassination attempt. With three weeks to lay low until the events Scudder has outlined are scheduled to begin, Hannay takes a train to Scotland to kill time. Having taking Scudder’s notebook when fleeing London and deciphered his coded notes, these appear to contradict what Scudder previously told him.

Over the next week or two he is relentlessly pursued both by aeroplane and car, by both the Germans and the police, still anxious to arrest Hannay for murder. His adventures see him posing as a road-mender at one time and unbelievably making a political speech for a prospective politician, Sir Harry at a rally. Having taken Harry into his confidence, Harry fortuitously has a relative in the Foreign Office and writes Hannay a letter of introduction.

Still on the run, Hannay survives being taken prisoner by the enemy. After managing to escape, Richard returns to London and contacts Harry’s relative – Sir Walter Bullivant; unburdening himself of his secrets. The Greek PM still gets assassinated. Our erstwhile hero still feels there is more at risk and gatecrashes a meeting at Bullivant’s house where he catches a glimpse of one of his Scottish pursuers in disguise. Hannay’s adversary is now in possession of material damaging to Britain’s war plans.

Hannay works with British military leaders to discover the significance of Scudder’s phrase – The Thirty Nine-Steps in a bid to save the day.

Overall verdict – I really liked this one. It felt a bit like a Boys Own adventure and to be honest there’s a place in my reading schedule for books of this type occasionally. One criticism would be that Buchan does seem to rely on some rather unlikely coincidences to help Hannay (and the author?) out of a jam at times. Last minor gripe would be the one of language with references made to “the Jew” and a “Jewish plot.” I wouldn’t dare to tar Buchan with an anti-semite brush, but 100 years after this was written it sits a little bit uncomfortably with me.

Happily, reading this managed to tick a number of boxes for me. I have a couple of signed-up for challenges that this meets the criteria for, plus one of my own.
Read Scotland – tick.
Vintage Mystery – Golden – tick (not quite sure which box on my bingo card I will be ticking just yet)
Espionage Challenge – tick

In addition, my son’s Christmas present to both my wife and me were tickets to see the West End production of The Thirty-Nine Steps last Saturday, something I will briefly cover in my next blog post. I managed to read the book before seeing the show, spoilsport that I am.

4 from 5

I do have a paperback copy of this around the house somewhere, but couldn’t locate it, so I got a free version from Amazon UK for my kindle. There are a couple of other Buchan/Hannay books on the site available for nowt, so I now have Greenmantle and Mr Standfast waiting. ( )
  col2910 | Apr 17, 2014 |

Still a ripping good spy thriller nearly 100 years later. ( )
  flightsafancy | Feb 2, 2014 |
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a WWI-era thriller by John Buchan; in the introduction, he mentions in a letter to a friend that he wrote it because he was bedridden with illness and had exhausted his own supply of easy, amusing thriller novels, so he decided to write his own. The novel follows protagonist Richard Hannay, a Scottish-born Rhodesian miner who has recently returned to the mother country and finds himself embroiled in a plot to throw Europe into war. With the man who warned Hannay of the plot soon murdered in his own flat, Hannay finds himself on the run in Scotland, pursued by both the conspirators and the British police.

I think I picked up The Thirty-Nine Steps because it was on the BBC’s Big Read, and because I recently got an ereader and was looking for public domain novels to download to test it out. It’s a relatively entertaining lark which reminded me quite a bit of Geoffrey Hosuehold’s Rogue Male (though I liked it better, since it has more variety in it) and no doubt enthralled many a soldier in the trenches of France. It moves along at a decent pace and clocks in nice and short at just over 100 pages. I’m just not sure why it’s so famous or why it made the Big Read list – there are probably hundreds of thrillers from the era that are of about the same quality. The Thirty-Nine Steps is entertaining enough, but if you die without reading it your life wasn’t necessarily a waste. ( )
  edgeworth | Jan 15, 2014 |
'The Thirty-Nine Steps' by John Buchan, first published in 1915 is a true classic adventure. Reading about the work on Wikipedia teaches us that it is one of the first 'man-on-the-run' thrillers. It is well-loved because its hero, Richard Hannay is a man who puts his country before himself. The book has been made into many movies (the most famous version is by Alfred Hitchcock), a play and many radio adaptions.
It is early 1914, and Richard Hannay, both the main character and the narrator, is in London after a stay in Africa (he is originally from Scotland). He is bored with his normal life in London and yearns for adventure. He runs into adventure by way of one his neighbors, Mr. Scruder, an American who claims to have faked his death because he has uncovered a secret that will cause war to erupt in Europe. After the man is murdered in Hannay's apartment, he goes on the run, both to evade police (who will surely think he murdered the man) and uncover and stop the plot Scruder was talking about.
The story is pretty fast paced (my edition, from Pan Books, 1980, only has 138 pages) and adventures. Hannay is not only on the run from the police (who aren't that hard to fool) but also from an evil group that is pretty smart. While the chase was fun to read about, there were so many coincidences to help the story along (the people Hannay meets who help him with just the right stuff or connections for example). It was a pretty enjoyable read, even if it showed it age a bit, three out of five stars. ( )
  divinenanny | Jan 13, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (86 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Buchan, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ardizzone, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Finn B. LarsenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gorey, EdwardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harvie, ChristopherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hynynen, AnssiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praetzellis, AdrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441178, Paperback)

A gripping tale of adventure that has enthralled readers since it was first published, John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" is edited with an introduction and notes by Sir John Keegan in "Penguin Classics". Adventurer Richard Hannay has just returned from South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his London life - until a spy is murdered in his flat, just days after having warned Hannay of an assassination plot that could plunge Britain into a war with Germany. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay picks up the trail left by the assassins, fleeing to Scotland, where he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game - and warn the government before it is too late. One of the most popular adventure stories ever written, "The Thirty-Nine Steps" established John Buchan as the original thriller writer and inspired many other novelists and filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock. In his introduction to this edition, historian Sir John Keegan compares Buchan's life - his experiences in South Africa, his love of Scotland and his moral integrity - with his fictional hero. This edition also includes notes, a chronology and further reading. John Buchan (1875-1940) was born in Perth, and first began writing at Oxford University, producing two volumes of essays, four novels and two collections of stories and poems before the age of twenty-five. During the First World War he worked both as a journalist and at Britain's War Propaganda Bureau, eventually becoming Director of Information. He published his most popular novel, "The Thirty-Nine Steps", in 1915 - and it has never since been out of print. If you enjoyed "The Thirty-Nine Steps", you might like G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday", also available in "Penguin Classics". "Richard Hannay is...a modern knight-errant". ("Observer"). "Once you've started, you can't put the book down". (Stella Rimington).

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:51 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Richard Hannay, a mining engineer, 'retires' at the age of 37, having made his fortune in Africa. He finds London dull, until he becomes caught up in a sensational plot to precipitate a pan-European war. Hannay is at first disinclined to believe the young American, with his incredible tales of international intrigue, and hints of a terrible secret. But when the American turns up dead in Hannay's flat, Hannay is forced to flee the attentions of both the conspirators and the law. Hannay is hunted across the Scottish moors by police and spy-ring alike, and must outwit his intelligent and pitiless enemy in the corridors of Whitehall and, finally, at the site of the mysterious thirty-nine steps.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

Four editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141182857, 0141441178, 0141031263, 0141194723

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