The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps John BuchanThe Thirty-Nine Steps: “I returned from the City about three o’clock on that May afternoon, pretty well disgusted with life.”

Richard Hannay is bored.  Dead bored.  Returning from mining exploits in South Africa to idyllic England, he expected to be charmed by life in the busy and dynamic city of London.  Perplexed at how to inject a dose of adventure back into his life, one evening he discovers a man on his doorstep in Portland Place, a man who relates a fantastic tale of espionage, murder and the possible political destabilization of not only England, but Europe as well.

The Spy Nicolae Grigorescu

The Spy (1877) Nicolae Grigorescu ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Hannay initially gives the stranger refuge, half convinced, yet half amused at his entertaining story.  That is until he returns home one evening to find his guest savagely skewered to the floor with the long blade of a knife, and Hannay realizes how serious is the deadly game into which he has inadvertently become a player.  And thus, he flees.

The Spy James Fenimore Cooper

Scene from James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Spy” (1823) William Dunlap ~ source Wikimedia Commons

Chased by the English authorities for the Portland Place murder, and hunted by the Anarchists for secret information he might know, Hannay’s chances of survival look bleak.  Barely escaping to his native Scotland by train, he employs every resource in his power and his creative intelligence to stay alive and hopefully rescue an ignorant England from an horrific fate that would bring her to her knees.

The Spy Alphonse de Neuville

The Spy (1880) Alphonse-Marie-Adolpne de Neuville ~ source Wikimedia Commons

The Thirty-Nine Steps was published in 1915 in serial form from August to September, before being released in book form in October of the same year.  Buchan wrote the novel while he was convalescing in bed, recovering from an ulcer.  His daughter, six at the time, was learning to count and counted 39 steps on a wooden staircase leading down to the beach at the private nursing home where he was residing. Thus, the title, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was born.

I quite enjoyed this thriller, being put in the mood for it from reading Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, The Man in the Brown Suit and The Secret of Chimneys.  Buchan’s novel has certain sensationalized aspects to it but it was just right for a thriller.  Buchan himself called the novel a “shocker” which indicates he was clearly aware of the tone of it and his intent.  The next Richard Hannay novel is “Greenmantle” which I’m looking forward to reading before too long.  If anyone has any other exciting thrillers to recommend, please let me know in the comments!

14 thoughts on “The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

  1. lost track of how many times i read this; 3 at least… greenmantle is even better i thought. Huntingtower, castle gay and mr. standfast are all great, imo… maybe i’ll go read them again. great pictures as always… i read the spy not too long ago and may do a post on it some time…

    • Ah, I thought you might be a fan, Mudpuddle! Thanks for the recommendations. In addition to The Thirty-Nine Steps, I have Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast and The Three Hostages in one book.

      I found Pixabay where you can get free photos without even giving credit, I believe, but I do like giving credit, so I do! 😀

  2. in fact i don’t think i ever read one of Buchan’s i didn’t like… sort of like H. Rider Haggard: can’t be beat imo…

    • It’s good to know that I can’t go wrong with Buchan. I’ve heard H. Rider Haggard is an acquired taste. I have his Pearl Maiden and, I think, She, but I’ve never read either. Have you?

      • i went through a Haggard phase; must have read twenty of his books and just loved his writing style… but i happened upon one of the short stories not too long ago and it was ??… so maybe he appeals to younger folk more… fabulously inventive, tho…

  3. I also think the Buchan novels are fun. Sick Heart River (the one set in Canada!) is also an adventure, but has a bit more going on, too.

    I didn’t know the stuff about the background & publishing history. Interesting!

    • Sick Heart River I hadn’t heard of but it sounds interesting! I think Buchan’s novels are lots of fun if you don’t expect too much of them.

      Yes, I like to add little tidbits of information! I can just imagine the real Thirty-Nine Steps! 🙂

  4. It’s funny. I could not get into this book, although my son and I enjoyed reading Solomon’s Mines. Our University gave a great performance of the play, though.

    • As I said to Reese, if you don’t expect too much of the books, they can be fun. There’s lots of action. I’ll be interested to find out how much I enjoy Greenmantle.

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