Author: John Buchan
Richard Hanney is just thinking about how boring is London life is and how he should leave when his upstairs neighbour appears seeking refuge. This mysterious man has uncovered some kind of plot involving various governments and although he gives Hanney some hints, he largely keeps the plot to himself. When this neighbour is then found murdered in Hanney’s flat, Hanney knows he must disappear for a while and try to find some way to warn the British Government of the plot. He hotfoots it to Scotland with the police (who are after him for murder) and some Germans (who think Hanney knows all about their plot) hot on his trail. His time in Scotland involves a wealth of adventure, from disguises and explosions to car crashes and finding some unlikely allies, Hanney is determined to do anything to ensure he stops this mysterious plot.
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a good old fashioned adventure. Told from the perspective of Hanney, this is a simple and engaging narrative that is action packed but in a simplistic way. That’s not an insult to the book, in fact it is compliment as I found this an easy and exciting read; you know the hero is going to be successful but it’s fun to read of his scraps and the challenges he faces. It’s pure adventure escapism.
Published in 1915, I was surprised that there weren’t really any major comments on the war, at least not until the very end of the novel and that was just a passing sentence. But then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The Thirty-Nine Steps was written at a time when Britain was slowly waking up to the reality of war so it makes perfect sense that this novel is old fashioned adventure and a tale where good overcomes evil; readers probably needed that. And there are some ‘subtle’ hints at war and the German enemy. The bad guys in The Thirty-Nine Steps are crafty Germans who are good at disguises and hoodwinking their enemies. They are portrayed as lying tricksters who will stop at nothing to get what they want and they get their comeuppance.
Overall this was a great read and one that I enjoyed much more than I expected. I think I might hunt out some more of Buchan’s work.