He has been feeling bored with London life - until he discovers a dead man in his flat, skewered to the floor with a knife through his heart. Only a few days before, the victim had warned him of an assassination plot that could bring the country to the brink of war.
An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the murderer, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland. There, on the wild moors, he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game - and warn the government of the impending danger before it is too late...
John Buchan (1st Baron Tweedsmuir) was a Scottish novelist and public servant who combined a successful career as an author of thrillers, historical novels, histories and biographies with a parallel career in public life. At the time of his death he was Governor-General of Canada.
Buchan was educated at Glasgow and Oxford Universities. After a brief career in law he went to South Africa in 1902 where he contributed to the reconstruction of the country following the Boer War. His love for South Africa is a recurring theme in his fiction.
On returning to Britain, Buchan built a successful career in publishing with Nelsons and Reuters. During the first world war, he was Director of Information in the British government. He wrote a twenty-four volume history of the war, which was later abridged.
Alongside his busy public life, Buchan wrote superb action novels, including the spy-catching adventures of Richard Hannay, whose exploits are described in The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages, and The Island of Sheep.
Apart from Hannay, Buchan created two other leading characters in Dickson McCunn, the shrewd retired grocer who appears in Huntingtower, Castle Gay, and The House of the Four Winds; and the lawyer Sir Edward Leithen, who features in the The Power-House, John Macnab, The Dancing Floor, The Gap in the Curtain and Sick Heart River.
From 1927 to 1935 Buchan was Conservative M.P. for the Scottish Universities, and in 1935, on his appointment as Governor-General to Canada, he was made a peer, taking the title Baron Tweedsmuir. During these years he was still productive as a writer, and published notable historical biographies, such as Montrose, Sir Walter Scott, and Cromwell.
When he died in Montreal in 1940, the world lost a fine statesman and story-teller.
Scotsman John Buchan’s fabulous The Thirty-Nine Steps is rightly considered a seminal classic in the Adventure/Spy genre, and it is for good reason it was on The Guardian’s Best 100 English Novels list at #42.
This exciting tale of espionage defined the man-on-the-run tale in breathless fashion, and was the first of the author’s Richard Hannay tales. What remains remarkable is the contemporary prose. Though it takes place before the first World War, offering insight into the view of what was happening at the time, the tale is timeless, and with minor changes, could easily be a thrilling espionage adventure told in our day. Books need to be judged within their context, and while most do, some don't. This classic has a solid four-star average after hundreds of reviews on Amazon in the US, which accurately reflects how much fun this is to read.
That's not to say some of what happens isn't implausible, almost Cornell Woolrich level implausible, but with a style and pace which makes Robert Ludlum (another great writer who was no pretentious critic's darling) seem lethargic; no easy task. The reader is having so much fun they simply don’t care that it's hardly plausible. It is, after all, fiction. Reading The Thirty-Nine Steps is fun and exciting, which is what it is supposed to be. Watching Hannay escape time after time until the thrilling confrontation and conclusion is exhilarating.
Buchan writes as though using lighting bolts rather than a pen, taking readers along for the electric-charged ride. The Thirty-Nine Steps is the quintessential can’t-put-down read. That thrill you got as a youngster reading a mystery adventure by flashlight beneath the covers was captured by Buchan, but it was moved forward into adulthood. On that level it doesn't just succeed, it shines. It's on The Guardian's list for good reason.
The book differs from Hitchcock’s famous British film adaptation in that there is no love interest for Hannay here; frankly because as a boys adventure story brought forward into adulthood, it isn’t needed. A rollicking good old-fashioned tale that set a bar seldom reached since it was written. The 39 Steps is fabulous fun and quite enjoyable when read, if you don't make comparisons with spy novels written many decades later, and why would you do that? This edition of this seminal work has an excellent biography at the end readers will most likely enjoy. Highly recommended.
”I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no men or women ought to feel.” Richard Hanney in The 39 Steps.
In the edition that I read Toby Buchan, grandson of John Buchan, wrote an introduction that was almost an apology. About half way through the book I understood the need for an apology. The book pales in comparison to the movie. The writing is jaunty and for a while sustains the reader, but soon I was searching desperately for the dialogue or the scenes that I loved most about the movie.
They are not there.
Charles Bennett adapted the novel to the screen and Ian Hay wrote the dialogue. They took a Buchan framework and turned it into an entertaining and exciting movie. I recently rewatched The 39 Steps (1935) during one of the Hitchcock weekends on TCM which made me that much more interested in reading the book that inspired the movie. Most of the book is one long chase scene involving motor cars, planes, bicycles, and leg races over hill and dale. There are numerous disguises, car crashes, and one rather large explosion. No overtones of sexual attraction or for that matter... women. It is a boy’s adventure played by a 37 year old man who has made his fortune in Rhodesia and found himself in dire circumstances when he decides to see London.
Indulge me while I plug the movie.
I had three favorite scenes from the movie that I hoped would be in the book or at least that there would be other memorable scenes that Bennett and Hay decided not to use. None of these scenes are in the book unfortunately.
The scene with the farmer’s wife that the writers and Hitchcock managed to convey to the watcher in so brief a span of time how lonely and desperate her life is married to a jealous, older, crusty man with no hope of respite. When the Richard Hanney character played by Robert Donat kisses her as he scrambles out a back door with her husband’s coat and hat I felt like cheering. That kiss, so easy to give, might be the very thing she needs to sustain herself or to break free.
The scene where Richard Hanney has made it to what he feels is a safe haven only to discover that his benefactor is the very man he has been trying to thwart.
In the course of the movie Richard Haney ends up cuffed to a hostile female named Pamela played by Madeleine Carroll. They escape from police custody and end up wet and very annoyed with each other in a room over a bar. They have the police and a pair of henchmen looking for them. In the room she sits down to peel her wet stockings off her legs and because he is cuffed to her his hand travels down each leg with her hands. It is one of the most sensual, sexy scenes in movie history and no one is naked.
Toby Buchan did provide me with a tidbit of information in his introduction to the book that was interesting. The character of Richard Hanney was based off the exploits of Lord Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside who had a long distinguished British military career. He commanded forces in WWI and WWII ending his career as a Field Marshal. John Buchan when he was writing this book in 1914 was only aware of Edmund “Tiny” Ironside’s exploits during the Boer War.
At the end of the war, he was part of the small force which escorted Jan Smuts to the peace negotiations. He then disguised himself as an Afrikaans-speaking Boer, and took a job as a wagon driver working for the German colonial forces in South West Africa. This intelligence work ended unsuccessfully, however; he was identified, and escaped shortly before being caught. This escapade later led to claims that he was the model for Richard Hannay, a character in the novels of John Buchan; it is interesting to note that Ironside himself enjoyed these novels, reading Mr Standfast in the implausibly romantic setting of the passenger seat of an open-cockpit biplane flying from Iraq to Persia. Wikipedia
You can probably guess which one is Edmund “Tiny” Ironside.
I prefer my armchair traveling where I can experience escaping captivity or flying in an open-cockpit biplane from Iraq to Persia from the safety of my oversized leather reading chair, but it does make me feel like my life is...well...a bit pedestrian.
My advice is to skip the book and go watch the movie.
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I am currently working my way through the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and decided to read Buchan's short mystery/spy novel because it seemed like a quick and easy option to take me a step closer to maybe one day completing the list. I never imagined it would be such a painfully boring slog.
Some books made the big list because they are actually good, some because they are (or were) scandalous, some because they are so far away from pretty much everything else that's been written, and some because they kick-started something or opened up a new type of genre and/or storytelling. I believe The Thirty-Nine Steps falls into this last category. It arguably introduced the world to the "spy" genre and has resulted in many attempted imitations over the years since its publication in 1915. But in terms of plot, writing and characters it just seems to me to have very little to offer. It may be one of the first of its kind, but many other authors have bettered the genre, in my opinion. I would use John le Carré as a prime example.
The novel begins with the bored Richard Hannay who is determined to give London just one more day to hold his interest before he leaves for a more exciting alternative abroad. Richard, however, gets way more than he bargained for when a new American acquaintance is murdered in Hannay's flat just a few days after the pair meet. Realising he is now likely the main target of the group who assassinated his new friend, and realising he will be the police force's main suspect for the murder, Richard takes off on the run around Scotland.
Richard is given very little characterization or development, he has no personality and the novel focuses on what happens to him, instead of who he is, why he acts in a particular way, or what he cares about - apart from the desire to avoid capture by the police or the assassins. Though he is being chased by two groups who either want to kill him or lock him up, I got no sense of his fear, desperation or urgency. The novel lacked emotion and I felt like I could be reading a cold, uncaring police report of events, rather than a first-hand account of them. This whole mess seemed like a little inconvenience in Richard Hannay's life, not something that was a real danger to him.
Most of all, it was boring. The conclusion wasn't satisfying enough to be worth putting up with the sequence of boring events for. I think this review says a lot about the novel's plot: "He runs around in the fields. A lot. He hides in this field. He hides in that field. Some shadowy figures close in, and off he goes, running again." An excellent and accurate summary, in my opinion.
What Hitchcock does with this novel is what Italy did for ground meat by inventing lasagna. The meat is here - a race against time and up to Scotland and back - but it might, if you love the Robert Donat film, think it needs . . . something. Salt? Pepper? A blonde? Perhaps a scene where the hero handcuffs himself to a woman in a bedroom. That just might do it.
The 1935 film has all the hallmarks of its era. It gave relief for Depression viewers. There is suspense and tension, romance, and light comedy. The story line of world affairs in the balance is vague yet would be familiar to anyone at the time hearing the rumblings from Europe. It may not be clear what is afoot but they knew enough it wasn't good.
John Buchan's The 39 Steps came out in the prelude to an altogether different war. Not the Second World War but the First. And its action is contemporary to that summer before the world changed and the twentieth century began its decline into butchery.
Its innocence is reflective of the time. Similarly, Jean Rhys wrote a short story called 'Til September Petronella about an outing to the country for some young people on the eve of the First World War. If it seems to our current tastes that more should happen in both pieces of literature, it might be good to remember the dates when they are set. It is not merely summer. It is "that" summer. While Rhys wrote her short story after events, Buchan is writing in the immediacy of the time which was rife with rumors of German spies.
For readers (not to mention viewers who grew up on James Bond films and Tom Cruise running/flying here and there across screens), it can seem that more should happen in Buchan's novel. Lovers of the Hitchcock film will also be disappointed there are no scenes with silk stockings on its pages. The romance is strictly for Scotland. This is what excites this Scottish author. The landscape is not merely a hiding place for the hero on the run. It is what drives him on. It is part of the mystery that he is trying to uncover. It is rough and wild and exciting as London is not.
"[T]he amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-water that has been standing in the sun," Richard Hannay tells us at the start of Chapter I, The Man Who Died. "[Y]ou have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you had better climb out," he tells himself.
Who hasn't felt that? Ruts. We are all susceptible. And it's by confessing his boredom that Richard Hannay won me over. I hate boredom. I often am. That's when life starts to get interesting.
Run-of-the-mill outmoded thriller. With conventions that pile on & on like wretched clichés, "The 39 Steps" is somewhat thrilling, somewhat entertaining. A sure predecessor to "The Fugitive," it has our main man running from the law while hiding and acting the parts of the British "lower" classes. The theme being that camouflage is the best defense, while you're out on the offense.
There's reverse psychology, the usurping of identities, and the amateur loss of evidence (here, a motor-car, a bicycle). Stupid, gullible people, drunk sometimes, also stumble upon the protagonist just when he needs them, the pre-W.W.I Good Samaritans, the most.
Simply: It's a hide-and-seek in the British countryside.
Tame, slightly engrossing, a tad too unspecial in a world filled with more complex and superior stories of detection. Yes, it being a prewar novel, it has some historical value. But still.
In this mercifully short ur-thriller our hero is the kind of guy who has an inbuilt trustometer which is activated by looking. He looks at another man and instantly can tell if he’s the decent, upstanding, plucky sort or the low, conniving, blackguard sort.
He was very young, but he was the man for my money. P30
I saw by this man’s eyes that he was the kind you can trust p43
Other men also have this impressive power of instant worthiness assessment :
He watched me with a smile. “I don’t want proof… I can size up a man. You’re no murderer and you’re no fool. I believe you are speaking the truth.”
Early on, our man Richard Hannay runs into an odd cove called Scudder and they use their trustometers on each other :
“Just one word, Mr Scudder. I believe you are straight, but if so be you are not, I should warn you that I’m a handy man with a gun.”
“I haven’t the privilege of your name, sir, but let me tell you that you’re a white man. I’ll thank you to lend me a razor.”
I was thinking well, you don’t have to be too perspicacious to see that someone is white and not black, but then I realized that white in this context does not mean white. Of course, it means “good”.
So this is not The Wire. It’s more like the 1914 version of James Bond, meaning no technology, absolutely no girls, but lots of racing around. Even though it’s 1914 cars are written off. This whole novel is one long chase scene.
EXIT PURSUED BY A JEW
Like certain popular songs where the verses are something you have to endure in order to get to the great singalong chorus John Buchan has to provide us with some kind of explanation for all this lying low, adopting disguises, cracking cyphers and running around. So Scudder explains that there is a dastardly German organization operating in England called the Black Stone. They are trying to steal military secrets and assassinate foreign politicians! I think anyway, it’s not awfully clear. And why? Let Scudder explain:
Away behind all the governments and the armies there was a big subterranean movement going on, engineered by very dangerous people… I gathered that most of the people in it were sort of educated anarchists that make revolutions, but that beside them were financiers who were playing for money. A clever man can make big profits on a falling market, and it suited the book of both classes to set Europe by the ears. … When I asked why, he said that the anarchist lot thought it would give them their chance. Everything would be in the melting pot, and they looked to see a new world emerge. The capitalists would rake in the shekels, and make fortuned by buying up the wreckage. Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides, the Jew was behind it.
A nice summary of what certain people must have been thinking as Europe did indeed slide into war and the Russian revolution was just around the corner. I bet Adolf was a fan of The Thirty-Nine Steps.
So for the first half the Black Stone is pursuing Richard Hannay, our well-heeled ex-colonial, and for the second half he (and the British government) is pursuing them. This novel is somewhat past its sell-by date. I think its sell-by date was June 1915.
When it was first published, this novel must have been fascinating reading. At the time the UK was at war with Germany and there were no doubt German spies in the country. The book was initially serialised in a magazine and many chapters end on the proverbial cliff hanger. As a result the story is fast paced and full of action.
In a dedication before the book John Buchan describes the book as a “dime novel” or “shocker” where ‘… the incidents defy the probabilities and march just inside the borders of the possible’. I cannot put it better than that.
The lead character of Richard Hannay is a wealthy man in his late ‘thirties who has recently returned from successful business activities in Africa. Bored with London society he initially relishes the intrigue offered by his chance meeting with Scudder but his situation soon deteriorates.
I found the Hannay and the other leading characters somewhat stereotypical but that is not altogether surprising in an action novel of this length. I suspect Buchan’s target audience did not want depth and sensitivity; they wanted easy to understand characters and lots of action.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of country life in Galloway which would then have been a world away from life in an English city. Yes, it may seem a bit thin and dated but before you question its definition as a Classic novel, consider the thousands of spy thrillers published in the intervening century which follow the same format. I am sure we have all read work from authors who could well have been influenced by John Buchan.
The Thirty Nine Steps deserves a read if only for its historical status. I have awarded it three stars.
A fairly conceited man gets embroiled in a rather far-fetched murder-cum-political-conspiracy that can only be described as Man Walks Through A Lot Of Heather. Mercifully short, this book could have been even shorter if we didn't have to follow Mr Hannay the length and breadth of Scotland, only to hear about his aching feet.
Fairly regular stuff, adventurous without too much danger to quicken your pace-maker. The only thing that was really missing was a James Bond-style Woman-For-Looking-At-And-Not-Much-Else-(Oh-Yes-Sleeping-With-Too). Not an awful lot of depth even if it was purposefully written that way, though that's hardly an excuse. It was also lacking in any kind of depth in terms of plot (there's a conspiracy, but what it is no-one really knows an awful lot about it: handy).
Short, not that sweet, but a vaguely interesting run-of-the-mill wee read for if you miss the train and don't have Bradshaw to hand. Or the Trainline app. Or Fruit Ninja. Whichever.
I hadn't heard of this book until recently, when it made a surprise appearance on The Guardian's Best 100 English Novels list. It's an early spy novel, written in 1915 and set just before WWI, and a smashing and brisk read. It was written by a John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, and I did not make that up. Baron Tweedsmuir.
Baron Tweedsmuir, at your service sirrah
It cites Kipling and Conrad as influences, appropriately, and there's some mention of Holmes as well, but its primary influence is clearly Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. There's a scene involving hiding and sweltering on top of a dovecote that's a direct play on a similar one in Kidnapped, but above all they share Scottishness, which manifests itself in a love of running about on moors and in a general unawareness of the existence of women. There are zero women in this book. Seriously, you never even pass one on the sidewalk. (Correction: a commenter named Vesna says there is one. I don't remember her but I'm willing to believe it.)
And very little happens in The 39 Steps that doesn't have to do with them. Buchan's hero, Richard Hannay, is a master of disguise: his transformation into a road worker at one point is wonderfully detailed. His Moriartyesque nemesis is even better, which leads to a denouement that isn't really believable but gets the job done.
This is more of a novella than a novel, and - arguably aside from some semi-interesting talk about the philosophy of disguising oneself - it's not very deep. It's a nonstop thrill ride, is what it is. But it's a hell of a good time.
You know what else is a good time is just saying Baron Tweedsmuir. Hello, Baron Tweedsmuir. We meet again, Baron Tweedsmuir.
Richard Hannay, a former Scotsman, has been in South Africa for some time working as a mining engineer. Now returned to the UK and living in a small flat in London, he meets journalist Franklin Scudder, a stranger who, claiming to be afraid for his very life, spins him a tale of his discovery of a complex anarachist plot to de-stabilize Europe and plunge it into a multi-national war by assassinating the Greek premier during an upcoming visit to London. With some reservations, Hannay allows Scudder to hide in his flat.
A few days later, when Hannay finds Scudder murdered with a knife in his heart, he realizes the truth behind Scudder's story and takes to his heels. Scotland Yard will be after him as the only plausible suspect in Hannay's murder and Hannay also realizes that the anarchists will be after him next because they won't know what Scudder might have told him. With Scudder's pocket book in hand, the only thing that contains the clues to his research into the plot, Hannay takes a train north planning to take refuge in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. His only plan is to come out of hiding at the last minute before Karolides' visit in order to reveal the plot to the British government.
There is no doubt that The Thirty-Nine Steps is a staunchly British, well written, exciting and immensely entertaining adventure story that tells the tale of a man on the run in fear of his life. Richard Hannay is also depicted as a courageous patriot who selflessly puts his country's and his government's national interests and security ahead of his own. First published in 1915 with WW I already hotly under way, author John Buchan also took a tiny step into the political arena by obviously criticizing those government officials who had pursued a policy of pacification and negotiation with Germany before the war.
With a significant question in my mind as to what its long term literary values may be, I'll leave the question of whether or not a simple adventure story deserves to be elevated to the status of classic to others to decide. But I will say that its timeless entertainment value and feel-good ending will ensure that The Thirty-Nine Steps will be read by adventure, mystery and thriller lovers for years and years to come.
How can a classic be so bad? Melodramatic, as expected, but Buchan piles improbability upon improbability insulting your intelligence until by the end you just want to slap him. This is an important book in that it sprung many imitators, and some claim it is the start of the spy genre. It has been filmed three times, adapted for radio and television, inspired the chase film genre, and certainly it gave Alfred Hitchcock his basic subject. Buchan was a political man, and he uses the book for a little bit of political and social satire. Well and good, but the ridiculous plot, narrative short cuts, and silly (but always convincing to the other characters) disguises make this a bad, bad book. It has one of the least credible and least exciting endings I have read in a thriller: no wonder all the films change it. Yet, credit due, Buchan invented a lot narratively that became part of popular culture, and has found a compelling voice for his first person narrator. The book is every bit as readable as it is bad, so readable that I’ll probably look for one of his later books to see if Buchan learned how to plot.
A fast paced thriller you are hooked from the first page itself. The chase can be visualized quite vividly and you get immersed in the plot. You do not get any concrete idea about what is the actual sabotage planned but the thrill of chase more than makes up for it. The end is quite a dampener but by then you come to accept that the hero is allowed miraculous escapes, last minute brain waves and lots of luck.
Back in 1979 Robert Powell played Richard Hannay in an excellent film version of The Thirty-Nine Steps & here he reads the original 1915 novel by John Buchan. Buchan's novel is a fast paced adventure & Powell is a superb narrator who brings the story vividly to life. It's great to see that such an old story still has the power to entertain. And here's the review I posted the last time I read the novel.....
I first read this novel when I was at school in the 1970s. Reading it now, 100 years after it was first published, it stands the test of time very well. Buchan's prose is simple & straightforward & the story was strong enough to inspire versions for the cinema, television & theatre.
Ο John Buchan έγραψε Τα 39 σκαλοπάτια ενόσω ο Α΄ Παγκόσμιος Πόλεμος είχε ήδη ξεκινήσει. Γι’ αυτό και η συνωμοσία που αποκαλύπτεται στον πρωταγωνιστή του βιβλίου, Richard Hannαy, διά στόματος ενός ανθρώπου που αμέσως μετά θα βρεθεί δολοφονημένος, και αφορά τη σχεδιαζόμενη δολοφονία ενός Ευρωπαίου πολιτικού ηγέτη (του Έλληνα πρωθυπουργού Κωνσταντίνου Καρολίδη!), με σκοπό την έναρξη ενός ακόμη πολέμου στην πολύπαθη ευρωπαϊκή ήπειρο, δεν υπήρξε ακριβώς προφητική. Αποτέλεσε, όμως, μια πρώτης τάξεως ευκαιρία για να χτίσει επάνω της ο John Buchan ένα εμβληματικό θρίλερ κατασκοπείας, που, μετά από ένα ανελέητο ανθρωποκυνηγητό στους ανεμοδαρμένους λόφους της Σκωτίας, θα κορυφωθεί σ’ ένα ασβεστολιθικό ακρωτήρι στο Κεντ (όπου και τα 39 σκαλοπάτια του τίτλου).
Αρχετυπικό αγγλικό θρίλερ, μεταφέρθηκε περισσότερες από μία φορές στον κινηματογράφο, με πρώτη (και καλύτερη) αυτή του Alfred Hitchcock (1935). Όχι τόσο σπουδαίο, όσο η ομώνυμη ταινία του μετρ του σασπένς, αν και ο Guardian το συμπεριέλαβε στη λίστα με τα εκατό καλύτερα μυθιστορήματα στην αγγλική γλώσσα.
Just an old-fashioned spy thriller filled with adventure and mayhem. While sometimes ridiculous to a fault with the numerous disguises, I found it very entertaining in a James Bond sort of way. A short fast read with a unique ending. Now I really must see the Alfred Hitchcock version of the movie!
“I was not a murderer, but I had become an unholy liar, a shameless impostor, and a highwayman with a marked taste for expensive motor-cars.”
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a 1915 novel that influenced later espionage/ spy adventures and “man-on-the-run stories.
On the brink of war in 1914 Europe, the protagonist and narrator, Richard Hannay becomes entangled unwittingly by a plot to assassinate a political figure. It all started when Hannay’s neighbor visited him and claimed that he was on the run from German spies who wanted him dead because he had discovered their plans. He allowed the neighbor to hide in his flat only to return home a few days later to find the man had been murdered. At first skeptical of the man’s claims, Hannay suddenly realizes their validity and the risk to his life for sheltering the victim. Not to mention that he would likely be charged with the murder of the neighbor. Thus, starts Hannay’s “man-on-the-run” adventure. He proves himself clever and resourceful in escaping and evading the police and the dangerous pursuers.
This is a fast-paced book that relies on Hannay’s intelligence, skill for disguises, and a bit of luck. I enjoyed the frequent suspense, but there was not real danger; everyone acted the part of a “gentleman.” Speaking of gentlemen, if I recall correctly, that all the characters are male.
I made the mistake of watching the 1935 film The 39 Steps directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Noteworthy director and rated 7.6/10, I was surprised at how awful the film was. One of the worse movies I’ve seen. This film (as there are more adaptions) added an extraneous female character(s) (dizzy, ridiculous) and deviated from the book enough that the storyline was more loosely based rather than adapted.
Then I noticed this book was on the 1001 Books to Read list, so I decided to give it a chance. I found it an entertaining and fun adventure romp. The story was improved upon by listening to the audio narrated by David Thorn. What an excellent audio it was and had music between chapters. Definitely recommended.
This is a novel the literary importance of which I have no trouble appreciating. First published in 1915, it's the ancestor of the espionage thriller genre featuring the rugged-man-of-action-on-the-run style of hero. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I was a regular reader of that genre. I'm not and consequently I was distinctly underwhelmed.
What I didn't like about the work first. For me, the main problem is that the plot pushes the concept of implausibility to its extreme limits. I'm generally quite willing to suspend disbelief - an attitude instilled in me by years of reading crime fiction - but I had a lot difficulty doing so in this instance. The hero, Richard Hannay, who is back in London after a long spell doing this and that in South Africa, gets caught up in a conspiracy relating to a German spy ring. Simultaneously on the run from the police who believe him implicated in a murder and the said German spy ring, Hannay spends a lot of time in disguise - luckily other people's clothes seem to fit him perfectly - and the rest of his time legging it across the Scottish and English landscape. His escapes are frankly ludicrous and the final scene defies any degree of willingness to accept the implausible and go along for the ride.
Another problem is the complete lack of character development. Hannay is a first person narrator who has the potential to be interesting, but he displays little personality and no psychological depth. He's pretty much cardboard-cut-out-man from beginning to end. The villains are suitably evil, but they have no more impact on the reader than the rest of the characters.
There are some positives, though. The prose is good and the pacing is in keeping with the action. And the fact that this is the novel which generated so many fictional and film heroes cannot be disregarded. Indeed, the cultural significance of the work is such that before picking it up I was convinced that I must have read it before. How could I not have done so, when it's so well-known? But I'm pretty sure now that it was a first time read, although I've possibly seen the Hitchcock film adaptation.
In terms of my reaction to novel as a piece of writing it gets two stars. Another one is thrown in because of its iconic status.
Seguro que algun@s de vosotr@s conocéis a MacGyver, aquel tipo con #pelazo que hacía maravillas con unos alicates y un imperdible en una serie de televisión de finales de los ochenta.
Richard Hannay, protagonista de Los 39 escalones me ha recordado por momentos a MacGyver…, ¡qué capacidad para escapar en cualquier circunstancia!
La novela comienza muy bien con un primer capítulo brillante, pero el globo de las expectativas se me deshinchó demasiado rápido. Me interesaba el contenido de la libreta y los enigmas que en ella se escondían, pero el autor prefirió dar protagonismo a las persecuciones, disfraces y explosiones… y fui poco a poco perdiendo interés.
En el grupo “Libro de Cine” del club literario Atreyu esta semana veremos y comentaremos la película de Hitchcock. Tengo la esperanza (y la intuición) de que la versión cinematográfica sí me gustará.
Mientras tanto, sonrío al recordar aquel chiste en el que MacGyver y su compañero estaban al borde de un precipicio acorralados por un ejército que les disparaban mientras se iban acercando hacia ellos. — Dios mío, McGyver… ¿y ahora qué hacemos? — Tranquilo, tengo un chicle.
So bored on a visit to 1915 London that he's on the verge of returning to Rhodesia, mining magnate Richard Hannay is suddenly pulled into adventure of the highest order with Britain's national security at stake. Suspected of murdering an American spy, he heads for the Scottish countryside to evade both British police and the Black Stone, a German spy ring, while trying to figure out how to thwart the latter's nefarious plot.
If you are willing to suspend disbelief at an unlikely number of both coincidences and absolutely convincing disguises, and suspend judgement of a smattering of imperial attitudes and speech, it's quite interesting as an example of one of the earliest thrillers. Adrian Praetzellis's reading for the free LibriVox audiobook I listened to was excellent and it was a fine companion on my recent walks, which were, alas, not on the moors.
According to the Crime Writers' Association, The 39 Steps is considered one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time, and I couldn't agree more. This classical spy was entertaining and thrilling from the beginning till the end.
The story revolves around Richard Hannay who stumbles upon a dangerous secret that turns his life upside down. Not only he's chased by the police for a murder he didn't commit, but also by spies who believe he knows too much. But the hilarious thing is that Richard Hannay himself doesn't mind this cat and mouse chase since he considered his life before that to be dull and boring. Thus, while avoiding being captured by either party he keeps looking for a way to get out of this mess.
I give it 4/5 for the fun ride and for my love of classical novels.
A fast paced adventure/ spy story that kept me company as I cooked on Dec 24 and Dec 25. My audiobook was a BBC classic radio drama, well performed, great audio background, a total delight! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the adventures of Richard Hannay, as he gets embroiled in a murder, in an assassination plot and is being pursued by ruthless killers. I am now looking forward to seeing the movie!
"The Thirty-Nine Steps" is a classic "innocent man on the run" adventure. Richard Hanney is housing his neighbor who is being followed by an anarchist gang called Black Stone. It's 1914 and the German gang is trying to steal British military plans. When Hanney returns to his flat, he finds the neighbor with a knife in his chest.
Hanney feels that he will be arrested for the murder so he takes off to Scotland. He's being hunted down by both the police and the Black Stone gang. Hanney can talk his way out of bad situations, and is a master of disguising himself as part of the working class. The short book is an action-packed adventure that keeps one turning the pages. The story is also full of lucky coincidences and improbable situations. It's a thriller with a patriotic, energetic hero, evil villains, and lots of Scottish local color.
Touted as a very suspenseful book I was eager to get this book read. So much so that I actually bought a physical copy since, due to the pandemic, my library is still closed. Waste of money? Slightly.
Written in first person, which more often than not, I don’t enjoy, the book started off well enough, grasping my attention with suspenseful page turning. Further in the suspenseful page turning turned into a slog of repetitious “adventures” which bored me senseless and I couldn’t wait to be finished with it!
Richard Hannay's been feeling bored with his life in London. Reading the paper one morning, Hannay sees something about a politician he admires, and next thing he knows, he's conjured an anti-semite out of thin air to spin yarns in his parlor and tell him there is a plot to kill the admirable politician and launch Britain and Germany into war. Luckily for Hannay, this anti-semite is murdered mysteriously, leaving Hannay looking pretty suspicious, so what can he do but become the author's wish-fulfillment and go on the run and engage in a little international espionage.
By which I mean he runs around in the fields. A lot. He hides in this field. He hides in that field. Some shadowy figures close in, and off he goes, running again.
I much prefer the move version, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. At least that has good music for all the running around parts.
This book is a series of improbable scenes of a man adopting various disguises to avoid detection while he does next to nothing of any import -- until the final chapter, where he unravels it all in one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever read. Seriously. He realizes that the man sitting right in front of him with NO DISGUISE ON is a man he met and had a conversation with a few chapters earlier. And it's treated like an ah-ha! moment.
Credit where it's due, I suppose for being one of the first of its kind. Rumor has it this book started the spy genre. If so, I wish they'd had a better blueprint. This is one of the worst books I've ever read. It has little resemblance to the Hitchcock film of the same title.
And they call it a classic ...
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) was published just prior to the start of WWI, and the political intrigue surrounding that figured prominently in the plot. So it's an international spy mystery with just a hint of comic relief. I listened to the LibreVox recording, narrated by Adrian Praetzellis, and was thoroughly entertained. His gift of imitating accents and applying his voice so well to the different characters set a tone that I would have missed if I had read the book.
The Thirty-Nine Steps, published in 1915, was the first of Scottish novelist John Buchan’s five Richard Hannay espionage novels.
Buchan produced both fiction and non-fiction and wrote in a variety of genres including some excellent horror stories and even what could be described as a paranormal adventure novel (The Gap in the Curtain). Buchan was also a successful politician and ended his career as governor-General of Canada (as Lord Tweedsmuir).
But it is for the Richard Hannay novels that he is now best remembered.
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a classic chase story. South African Richard Hannay is bored by life in London but he is about to get more adventure than he’s bargained for when he meets the mysterious Scudder. Scudder is an intelligence agent and his story about the assassination of a Balkan political leader seems fantastic to Hannay. Then Scudder is killed by enemy agents and Hannay finds himself in possession of a secret that could cost him his life.
Being uncomfortable with city life at the best of times he decides he would have a better chance of survival in some wild place where his experiences on the veldt would stand him in good stead. So he heads off in the direction of the Scottish Highlands. He is on the run not only from the German spy network but also from the police, being a suspect in the murder of Scudder.
While evading capture Hannay also has to puzzle out the full meaning of the conspiracy uncovered by Scudder, and it goes far beyond anything he originally imagined. It is nothing less than a plan for destroying the British fleet on the outbreak of war. But what is the meaning of the thirty-nine steps that keep getting mentioned in Scudder’s notebooks? And how can Hannay, a mere civilian, convince the British government of the truth of this amazing story? He will need evidence. So while Hannay is the hunted he is about to turn hunter.
Hitchcock’s classic 1935 film version is the best-known of the several movie adaptations of this novel. The plot of the 1935 movie differs quite markedly from the plot of the book. In the book the thirty-nine steps is not a mere McGuffin as in the film (a McGuffin being something of no importance in itself except insofar as both the heroes and the villains happen to be seeking it). In the book the thirty-nine steps are crucially important and the espionage conspiracy takes centre stage (while the movie is essentially just a chase movie, albeit one of the greatest such movies ever made).
Richard Hannay is one of the great fictional spy heroes, a rather taciturn but very determined character who is driven by both patriotism and a thirst for adventure.
Buchan’s novel is a classic of the spy genre and is a must-read for any spy fan.
The 39 Steps, published by John Buchan in 1915, is a vintage classic that has not aged well. The story of an everyman swept up in an espionage adventure as a result of some stranger confiding in him is a trope that has become cliche, but back then it was innovative. This is not Buchan's fault that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Also, the language is a little more sophisticated than most readers would care to wade through. This book pales in comparison to the Hitchcock cinema classic; however, I am glad that I saw the movie before I read the book. Most of us readers, usually get the sense that the book is better than the movie. The movie would refute that claim, in this instance. You may get a skewed sense that I did not like the novel. I enjoyed the novel. There are some action sequences that are compelling. Hannay's flight from his home is riveting. Some of the dialogue is flip and witty. Hannay is a fascinating character and the fact that there are other novels to amplify and demonstrate his abilities is something that I look forward to reading, but I think the sincerest rating I can give is 3 and a half Grey Geeks or 3 stars in Goodreads speak.
This book is like every man's fantasy. Get involved in an adventure that might include stopping sinister people bent on starting a war. Run away into the hills of Scotland and fool your pursuers by assuming various disguises and pretending to be other people. Sleep outdoors. Barge in on farm women when their husbands are away and be the benefactor of their kindness.
Its really short and thrilling. But I felt like I read a big novel when it was over. Maybe because the thrills are relentless. The ending was shorn of action but is set in a beautiful coastal region. Buchan does a great job describing the Scottish countryside. The descriptions of nature really stirred my imagination. "Glen"is such a beautiful sounding world.
This book definitely inspired writers of "man on the run" novels like Geoffrey Household and Charles Williams.