Book Review--The Thirty-Nine Steps By John Buchan


I told the man that valets me that I was feeling pretty bad, and I got myself up to look like death. That wasn't difficult, for I'm no slouch at disguises. Then I got a corpse-you can always get a body in London if you know where to go for it.

That quote tells you all you need to know about The Thirty-Nine Steps. When reading this book you are entering a world of death, disguises, innumerable chases on car and foot, and corpses available whenever needed. It is a hey-go-mad romp across the countryside of Scotland where the hero no sooner escapes from one dangerous situation before he falls into another. No wonder this book was made into a movie.It is really made up of scenes and reading it is like having a movie unfold in your head.

Richard Hannay, the protagonist and narrator, returns to his London flat one night to encounter a desperate stranger who claims to have uncovered an anarchist plot that will impact all of Europe. Hannay shelters him while the man fakes his own death. This fake death becomes all too real when Hannay returns one day to find the man stabbed through the heart. Hannay is afraid that the murders will come after him next and that the police will suspect him of the crime. Therefore, he flees for Scotland where he intends to hide out until just before the anarchist plot is to be implemented when he will emerge, warn all of what is to come, and save the day. Things don't go according to plan. Of course. The rest of the book is made up of the aforementioned chases, disguises, and dangerous situations.

This book is frankly implausible but that is what makes it so much fun. The reader completely suspends belief and instead goes on the run with Richard Hannay. And oh, what an adventure it is. It reminded me a bit of a James Bond movie with fewer explosions (though there are some) and no beautiful women. I'll probably download and read the sequels at some point and I'll rewatch the movie. I haven't seen it in years and don't really remember it.

All in all, this was pure entertainment. It isn't the best book ever written. It doesn't make you think or teach you a lesson (other than the folly of sheltering men who are faking their own death) and the plot is full of holes. But it is written at a breakneck speed that carries you along with it.  Enjoy the ride.

This was read for my Classics Club list.


6 comments

  1. Wow! This sounds like a fun book. The Scottish setting makes it even more appealing. I'm going to check it out. Thanks.

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    1. It definitely has increased my dreams of a vacation to Scotland. I hope you enjoy the book.

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  2. I want to read this book! I love books that are purely for fun!

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    1. It was a quick and easy read and full of ridiculous plot points but sometimes that is exactly what you need in a book.

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  3. Buchan wrote this book over a weekend when he was ill in bed, I think Greenmantle is much better. There have been two films made of it, the Hitchcock one and a much later version. Both have a scene with Hannay clambering all over the Forth Rail Bridge, which doesn't appear in the book. It's an improvement and as Buchan lived not far from the bridge it's a shame that he never thought of using the setting.

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    1. I have Greenmantle on my Kindle. I'll have to read that soon. I'll watch the movies too. They will probably just add to my desire to go to Scotland!

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