The Thirty-Nine Steps
The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps

by John Buchan

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The novel is set during May and June 1914; war was evident in Europe, Richard Hannay the protagonist and narrator, an expatriate Scot, returns to his new home, a flat in London, after a long stay in Rhodesia to begin a new life. One night he is buttonholed by a stranger, a well-travelled American, who claims to be in fear for his life. The man appears to know of an anarchist plot to destabilise Europe, beginning with a plan to assassinate the Greek Premier, Constantine Karolides, during his forthcoming visit to London. The man reveals his name to be Franklin P. Scudder, a freelance spy, and remarks that he is dead, which holds Hannay's attention. Scudder explains that he has faked his own death to avert suspicion. Scudder claims to be following a ring of German spies called the Black Stone who are trying to steal British plans for the outbreak of war. Hannay lets Scudder hide in his flat, and sure enough the next day another man is discovered having apparently committed suicide in the same building. A couple of days later Hannay returns home to find Scudder dead with a knife through his heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596881433
Publisher: Large Print Book Company, The
Publication date: 04/15/2011
Edition description: Large Print Edition
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

John Buchan is best remembered for his adventure stories and in particular the five Hannay novels, which include Greenmantle, The Three Hostages, and The Island of Sheep.

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The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan


Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7708-7


The Man Who Died

I returned from the city about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life. I had been three months in the Old Country, and was fed up with it. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would have been feeling like that I should have laughed at him; but there was the fact. The weather made me liverish, the talk of the ordinary Englishman made me sick. I couldn't get enough exercise, and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-water that has been standing in the sun. 'Richard Hannay,' I kept telling myself, 'you have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you had better climb out.'

It made me bite my lips to think of the plans I had been building up those last years in Bulawayo. I had got my pile—not one of the big ones, but good enough for me; and I had figured out all kinds of ways of enjoying myself. My father had brought me out from Scotland at the age of six, and I had never been home since; so England was a sort of Arabian Nights to me, and I counted on stopping there for the rest of my days.

But from the first I was disappointed with it. In about a week I was tired of seeing sights, and in less than a month I had had enough of restaurants and theatres and race-meetings. I had no real pal to go about with, which probably explains things. Plenty of people invited me to their houses, but they didn't seem much interested in me. They would fling me a question or two about South Africa, and then get on their own affairs. A lot of Imperialist ladies asked me to tea to meet schoolmasters from New Zealand and editors from Vancouver, and that was the dismalest business of all. Here was I, thirty-seven years old, sound in wind and limb, with enough money to have a good time, yawning my head off all day. I had just about settled to clear out and get back to the veld, for I was the best bored man in the United Kingdom.

That afternoon I had been worrying my brokers about investments to give my mind something to work on, and on my way home I turned into my club—rather a pot-house, which took in Colonial members. I had a long drink, and read the evening papers. They were full of the row in the Near East, and there was an article about Karolides, the Greek Premier. I rather fancied the chap. From all accounts he seemed the one big man in the show; and he played a straight game too, which was more than could be said for most of them. I gathered that they hated him pretty blackly in Berlin and Vienna, but that we were going to stick by him, and one paper said that he was the only barrier between Europe and Armageddon. I remember wondering if I could get a job in those parts. It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might keep a man from yawning.

About six o'clock I went home, dressed, dined at the Cafe Royal, and turned into a music-hall. It was a silly show, all capering women and monkey-faced men, and I did not stay long. The night was fine and clear as I walked back to the flat I had hired near Portland Place. The crowd surged past me on the pavements, busy and chattering, and I envied the people for having something to do. These shop-girls and clerks and dandies and policemen had some interest in life that kept them going. I gave half-a-crown to a beggar because I saw him yawn; he was a fellow-sufferer. At Oxford Circus I looked up into the spring sky and I made a vow. I would give the Old Country another day to fit me into something; if nothing happened, I would take the next boat for the Cape.

My flat was the first floor in a new block behind Langham Place. There was a common staircase, with a porter and a liftman at the entrance, but there was no restaurant or anything of that sort, and each flat was quite shut off from the others. I hate servants on the premises, so I had a fellow to look after me who came in by the day. He arrived before eight o'clock every morning and used to depart at seven, for I never dined at home.

I was just fitting my key into the door when I noticed a man at my elbow. I had not seen him approach, and the sudden appearance made me start. He was a slim man, with a short brown beard and small, gimlety blue eyes. I recognized him as the occupant of a flat on the top floor, with whom I had passed the time of day on the stairs.

'Can I speak to you?' he said. 'May I come in for a minute?' He was steadying his voice with an effort, and his hand was pawing my arm.

I got my door open and motioned him in. No sooner was he over the threshold than he made a dash for my back room, where I used to smoke and write my letters. Then he bolted back.

'Is the door locked?' he asked feverishly, and he fastened the chain with his own hand.

'I'm very sorry,' he said humbly. 'It's a mighty liberty, but you looked the kind of man who would understand. I've had you in my mind all this week when things got troublesome. Say, will you do me a good turn?'

'I'll listen to you,' I said. 'That's all I'll promise.' I was getting worried by the antics of this nervous little chap.

There was a tray of drinks on a table beside him, from which he filled himself a stiff whisky-and-soda. He drank it off in three gulps, and cracked the glass as he set it down.

'Pardon,' he said, 'I'm a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this moment to be dead.'

I sat down in an armchair and lit my pipe.

'What does it feel like?' I asked. I was pretty certain that I had to deal with a madman.

A smile flickered over his drawn face. 'I'm not mad—yet. Say, Sir, I've been watching you, and I reckon you're a cool customer. I reckon, too, you're an honest man, and not afraid of playing a bold hand. I'm going to confide in you. I need help worse than any man ever needed it, and I want to know if I can count you in.'

'Get on with your yarn,' I said, 'and I'll tell you.'

He seemed to brace himself for a great effort, and then started on the queerest rigmarole. I didn't get hold of it at first, and I had to stop and ask him questions. But here is the gist of it:

He was an American, from Kentucky, and after college, being pretty well off, he had started out to see the world. He wrote a bit, and acted as war correspondent for a Chicago paper, and spent a year or two in South-Eastern Europe. I gathered that he was a fine linguist, and had got to know pretty well the society in those parts. He spoke familiarly of many names that I remembered to have seen in the newspapers.

He had played about with politics, he told me, at first for the interest of them, and then because he couldn't help himself. I read him as a sharp, restless fellow, who always wanted to get down to the roots of things. He got a little further down than he wanted.

I am giving you what he told me as well as I could make it out. Away behind all the Governments and the armies there was a big subterranean movement going on, engineered by very dangerous people. He had come on it by accident; it fascinated him; he went further, and then he got caught. I gathered that most of the people in it were the sort of educated anarchists that make revolutions, but that beside them there 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.

He told me some queer things that explained a lot that had puzzled me—things that happened in the Balkan War, how one state suddenly came out on top, why alliances were made and broken, why certain men disappeared, and where the sinews of war came from. The aim of the whole conspiracy was to get Russia and Germany at loggerheads.

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 fortunes by buying up wreckage. Capital, he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides, the Jew was behind it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell.

'Do you wonder?' he cried. 'For three hundred years they have been persecuted, and this is the return match for the pogroms. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him. Take any big Teutonic business concern. If you have dealings with it the first man you meet is Prince von und Zu Something, an elegant young man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English. But he cuts no ice. If your business is big, you get behind him and find a prognathous Westphalian with a retreating brow and the manners of a hog. He is the German business man that gives your English papers the shakes. But if you're on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, Sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his knife in the Empire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.'

I could not help saying that his Jew-anarchists seemed to have got left behind a little.

'Yes and no,' he said. 'They won up to a point, but they struck a bigger thing than money, a thing that couldn't be bought, the old elemental fighting instincts of man. If you're going to be killed you invent some kind of flag and country to fight for, and if you survive you get to love the thing. Those foolish devils of soldiers have found something they care for, and that has upset the pretty plan laid in Berlin and Vienna. But my friends haven't played their last card by a long sight. They've gotten the ace up their sleeves, and unless I can keep alive for a month they are going to play it and win.'

'But I thought you were dead,' I put in.

'MORS JANUA VITAE,' he smiled. (I recognized the quotation: it was about all the Latin I knew.) 'I'm coming to that, but I've got to put you wise about a lot of things first. If you read your newspaper, I guess you know the name of Constantine Karolides?'

I sat up at that, for I had been reading about him that very afternoon.

'He is the man that has wrecked all their games. He is the one big brain in the whole show, and he happens also to be an honest man. Therefore he has been marked down these twelve months past. I found that out—not that it was difficult, for any fool could guess as much. But I found out the way they were going to get him, and that knowledge was deadly. That's why I have had to decease.'

He had another drink, and I mixed it for him myself, for I was getting interested in the beggar.

'They can't get him in his own land, for he has a bodyguard of Epirotes that would skin their grandmothers. But on the 15th day of June he is coming to this city. The British Foreign Office has taken to having International tea-parties, and the biggest of them is due on that date. Now Karolides is reckoned the principal guest, and if my friends have their way he will never return to his admiring countrymen.'

'That's simple enough, anyhow,' I said. 'You can warn him and keep him at home.'

'And play their game?' he asked sharply. 'If he does not come they win, for he's the only man that can straighten out the tangle. And if his Government are warned he won't come, for he does not know how big the stakes will be on June the 15th.'

'What about the British Government?' I said. 'They're not going to let their guests be murdered. Tip them the wink, and they'll take extra precautions.'

'No good. They might stuff your city with plain-clothes detectives and double the police and Constantine would still be a doomed man. My friends are not playing this game for candy. They want a big occasion for the taking off, with the eyes of all Europe on it. He'll be murdered by an Austrian, and there'll be plenty of evidence to show the connivance of the big folk in Vienna and Berlin. It will all be an infernal lie, of course, but the case will look black enough to the world. I'm not talking hot air, my friend. I happen to know every detail of the hellish contrivance, and I can tell you it will be the most finished piece of blackguardism since the Borgias. But it's not going to come off if there's a certain man who knows the wheels of the business alive right here in London on the 15th day of June. And that man is going to be your servant, Franklin P. Scudder.'

I was getting to like the little chap. His jaw had shut like a rat-trap, and there was the fire of battle in his gimlety eyes. If he was spinning me a yarn he could act up to it.

'Where did you find out this story?' I asked.

'I got the first hint in an inn on the Achensee in Tyrol. That set me inquiring, and I collected my other clues in a fur-shop in the Galician quarter of Buda, in a Strangers' Club in Vienna, and in a little bookshop off the Racknitzstrasse in Leipsic. I completed my evidence ten days ago in Paris. I can't tell you the details now, for it's something of a history. When I was quite sure in my own mind I judged it my business to disappear, and I reached this city by a mighty queer circuit. I left Paris a dandified young French-American, and I sailed from Hamburg a Jew diamond merchant. In Norway I was an English student of Ibsen collecting materials for lectures, but when I left Bergen I was a cinema-man with special ski films. And I came here from Leith with a lot of pulp-wood propositions in my pocket to put before the London newspapers. Till yesterday I thought I had muddied my trail some, and was feeling pretty happy. Then ...'

The recollection seemed to upset him, and he gulped down some more whisky.

'Then I saw a man standing in the street outside this block. I used to stay closed in my room all day, and only slip out after dark for an hour or two. I watched him for a bit from my window, and I thought I recognized him ... He came in and spoke to the porter ... When I came back from my walk last night I found a card in my letter-box. It bore the name of the man I want least to meet on God's earth.'

I think that the look in my companion's eyes, the sheer naked scare on his face, completed my conviction of his honesty. My own voice sharpened a bit as I asked him what he did next.

'I realized that I was bottled as sure as a pickled herring, and that there was only one way out. I had to die. If my pursuers knew I was dead they would go to sleep again.'

'How did you manage it?'

'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. I fetched it back in a trunk on the top of a four-wheeler, and I had to be assisted upstairs to my room. You see I had to pile up some evidence for the inquest. I went to bed and got my man to mix me a sleeping-draught, and then told him to clear out. He wanted to fetch a doctor, but I swore some and said I couldn't abide leeches. When I was left alone I started in to fake up that corpse. He was my size, and I judged had perished from too much alcohol, so I put some spirits handy about the place. The jaw was the weak point in the likeness, so I blew it away with a revolver. I daresay there will be somebody tomorrow to swear to having heard a shot, but there are no neighbours on my floor, and I guessed I could risk it. So I left the body in bed dressed up in my pyjamas, with a revolver lying on the bed-clothes and a considerable mess around. Then I got into a suit of clothes I had kept waiting for emergencies. I didn't dare to shave for fear of leaving tracks, and besides, it wasn't any kind of use my trying to get into the streets. I had had you in my mind all day, and there seemed nothing to do but to make an appeal to you. I watched from my window till I saw you come home, and then slipped down the stair to meet you ... There, Sir, I guess you know about as much as me of this business.'

He sat blinking like an owl, fluttering with nerves and yet desperately determined. By this time I was pretty well convinced that he was going straight with me. It was the wildest sort of narrative, but I had heard in my time many steep tales which had turned out to be true, and I had made a practice of judging the man rather than the story. If he had wanted to get a location in my flat, and then cut my throat, he would have pitched a milder yarn.

'Hand me your key,' I said, 'and I'll take a look at the corpse. Excuse my caution, but I'm bound to verify a bit if I can.'

He shook his head mournfully. 'I reckoned you'd ask for that, but I haven't got it. It's on my chain on the dressing-table. I had to leave it behind, for I couldn't leave any clues to breed suspicions. The gentry who are after me are pretty bright-eyed citizens. You'll have to take me on trust for the night, and tomorrow you'll get proof of the corpse business right enough.'

I thought for an instant or two. 'Right. I'll trust you for the night. I'll lock you into this room and keep the key. Just one word, Mr Scudder. I believe you're straight, but if so be you are not I should warn you that I'm a handy man with a gun.'

'Sure,' he said, jumping up with some briskness. '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 took him into my bedroom and turned him loose. In half an hour's time a figure came out that I scarcely recognized. Only his gimlety, hungry eyes were the same. He was shaved clean, his hair was parted in the middle, and he had cut his eyebrows. Further, he carried himself as if he had been drilled, and was the very model, even to the brown complexion, of some British officer who had had a long spell in India. He had a monocle, too, which he stuck in his eye, and every trace of the American had gone out of his speech.


Excerpted from The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I The Man Who Died
II The Milkman Sets Out on His Travels
III The Adventure of the Literary Innkeeper
IV The Adventure of the Radical Candidate
V The Adventure of the Spectacled Roadman
VI The Adventure of the Bald Archaeologist
VII The Dry-Fly Fisherman
VIII The Coming of the Black Stone
IX The Thirty-Nine Steps
X Various Partied Converging on the Sea

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The Thirty-nine Steps 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty short read (10 chapters) and I got through it pretty quickly. It was easy reading. I had seen the Alfred Hitchcock's version of the movie before I read it, so I went into it thinking there was a going to be a romance. WRONG! It wasn't anything like the movie (actually, I should say the movie wasn't anything like the book). I might have been improved by including a romance, but that's just from a woman's point of view (ha, ha!). Anyway, my overall impression of the book was that I didn't like it quite as well as I thought I was going to. You could really tell it was a dime novel. I didn't understand the complicated international secret and Scudder's code, mostly because the author lightly scimmed over that part (and that's the main part, right?). I kind of got bored with Hannay running around chapter after chapter. But the last three chapters redeem the rest of the book, I think. That was when I began to get interested and it grew more exciting. It's too bad Alfred Hitchcock didn't borrow a little more than the title and the main character's name and nothing else from the plot. Would I recommend another person to read it? Since it's a short read, I'd say go right ahead... just leave all expectations behind you.
Big_Willy More than 1 year ago
There's always a risk stepping out of ones interests and I downloaded this book from a mail-order flyer in the mail. Turns out it was a good move. This book is part espionage and all intrigue that takes place in the months leading toward World War I in Great Britain. The main character is an uninspired resident of London who wishes he knew his grander purpose to provide spark and excitement in his life. Turns out he gets that in spades when he meets up with another person in his apartment and sets off on a whirlwind adventure. The plot itself isn't complex but absolutely interesting as the character zips around the countryside sorting out what to do. I found many of the author's lines to be very funny and intelligent. This was a Google download so brace yourself for random characters sprinkled with love throughout this otherwise very short book. ENJOY!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was quite refreshing! It had a good plot with good charactors. A very easy, enjoyable read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was amazed at the quick pace and wonderful storyline. They say this was the foundation for most spy thrillers. I can belive it.
gmillar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't know what all the hooha is about. Yes, it moves along quickly; yes, it is delightfully short - but - there is much improbability; there is a flip ending; it is thankfully short. It's a sort of "adult-ish Biggles".
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Richard Hannay is an engineer who has traveled the world, and now finds himself living in London. He also finds himself bored with life, and having nothing to do. But that very night, a mysterious little man named Scudder appears at his doorstep, and tells him a tale of spies, running from the German secret service, faked suicides, and codes. Hannay agrees to help the man by hiding him in his apartment, but on returning home the next day, he finds Scudder killed and his home torn apart. After investigating a bit, he finds a black book that belonged to his murdered house-guest, filled with an illegible code. Knowing this to be what the killers were searching his home for, he assumes that they will be after him next. He also assumes that the London police will find evidence enough to convince everyone that it was he who murdered Scudder. Believing himself to have no choice, he leaps aboard a train to Scotland. He journeys about the countryside on foot, in disguises, on bicycles, and in stolen expensive cars, all the while deciphering the code in Scudder's black book and unraveling the mystery of what is going on around him.Knowing absolutely nothing of the genre, I was curious to read this book, which even I know is famous for inspiring the spy / thriller genre. Minus the hot girl on our heroes arm, I certainly could find a lot of similarities to other spy movies I've seen (I have to limit my knowledge to movies, as I haven't read nearly enough books to make comparisons). This was a little dryer than what I expected, and there was never any tone of desperation or stress, like I would expect from a man running from two formidable enemies. Even when he is captured, Richard seems to look upon all of the events with a collected, factual state of mind.This book was very unrealistic - and I know that spy stories always are, but this was different.Such as, wouldn't it have been better for Richard to disappear in London (where he already was) instead of head for the country? He is always bemoaning the fact that there is nowhere to hide there, while in London, this would certainly not have been the case.Also, a suspiciously high number of absolute strangers were willing to help, and sometimes take risks for, Richard. This was, of course, highly unlikely, but the main character never seemed to see anything odd in it.Little things like this really took my mind away from the story, and annoyed me. There is a difference between probable (boring) and believable (well written).At first, this book started off at a racing pace. Within just a few pages, Scudder has appeared at Richard's door, with tales of spies and intrigue, and a few pages later, he is murdered and Richard goes on the run. I absolutely loved it. It was Victorian with a dash of James Bond.However, after this point, the book got progressively more and more boring up until the very end. The middle is all just about Richard traveling, and besides the stolen cars, most often not in very glamorous or "thrilling" ways. At one point, he is even riding a bicycle.I actually wondered, after Richard had been traveling for awhile, if the author was tricking us, and the spies actually didn't exist at all. In fact, I found myself surprised when the spies finally materialized later, and proved themselves to be, indeed, real.Scudder was the very best part of this book, and I fervently wish that he had lived, and gone traveling with Richard. That would have been interesting, as the man got to know his traveling companion without revealing too much, keeping Richard and the reader in constant suspense.Though it did not lend itself to the "fleeing" scenes (code here for peaceful bicycle rides in the charming countryside), the British writing was a good combination in the more exciting scenes. Again, the beginning was the best portion of this little book, and I loved the tone, pace, and overall feeling of the writing style.An average book, or perhaps even a bit below.
atimco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The introduction to this slim little volume promised me that I was about to embark on a suspenseful and gripping ride. Unfortunately, whenever a book is hyped this way there is the chance that false expectations will be raised, and so it turned out. Though The Thirty-Nine Steps is known as a classic "shocker," I was left waiting for shocks that didn't come.It's 1914, and Richard Hannay has just returned to England after "making his pile" in Rhodesia when his apartment is invaded by a man who claims to be dead. Well, he isn't really dead, of course, but Franklin P. Scudder has found it expedient to fake his own death in order to avoid the real thing. Scudder is a freelance spy who's just caught on to something really big, and powerful people are after him. When they do catch up with the little man and make it look like Hannay committed the murder, our hero decides to carry on Scudder's mission himself. Thus begins a wild chase through the countryside as Hannay runs for his life and tries to figure out Scudder's little black book along the way.There are a couple things that didn't work for me. First, there is the problem of the whole worldwide conspiracy. Buchan's treatment of the subject is far better than, say, Agatha Christie's in her dreadful Passenger to Frankfurt (a book I couldn't even finish). But it never felt very real to me. Second, most of the story is taken up with the dogged pursuit our narrator is attempting to escape. I gather that this is the bulk of the suspense, but somehow it just didn't grip me. Most of the ways Hannay escapes hinge on someone being willing to trade clothes with him or a fortuitous coincidence that prevents his being seen. When he does walk right into the enemy's lair and is taken prisoner, they put him in a storeroom that contain lignite (a form of dynamite), which, due to his time spent mining in Rhodesia, he knows how to use to free himself. Hannay also just happens to recognize the man who was posing as Lord Alloa, thus uncovering the government leak, and when he needs to get rid of his stolen car he accidentally but conveniently crashes it into a ravine (himself escaping unscathed).Buchan was well aware of the crazy improbability of these events and didn't care ¿ to him the excitement was the main thing. And a lot of readers have agreed with him. I wish I could, but I just never felt the intensity other readers ascribe to the book.One thing Buchan does very well is the portrayal of the villains once we finally catch up to them at the very end. They are the most superb actors and understand a fine point: it is only amateurs who try to look different. Professionals look the same but are different, and so escape detection. It's an interesting theory and a bit more sophisticated than Christie's masks and such that appear in her stories of false identities.Twice now I've compared Buchan favorably to Christie, but so far (not having read either author's entire oeuvre) I prefer Christie's work. Apparently The Thirty-Nine Steps was quite a hit with soldiers in the trenches during the first World War, and I can see why. A lone man, motivated by loyalty to his country, takes on the most powerful secret group in the world ¿ and wins. A week after successfully preventing a major tactical leak, Hannay joins the army as a captain. He is made to order as a hero for the World War I soldier! I wish I could have enjoyed this more. Lesson learned: next time I'll skip the introduction and get right to the tale.
LARA335 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first spy novel? Jaunty boys-own tory, written at the beginning of the 1stWW. Unbelievable coincidences abound that add to the light tone.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book got me thinking about the way technology has developed over the years - to such a degree that a story like this could not really happen in the modern age. The main character would have been caught on so many CCTV cameras, and mobile phones would have been buzzing..... Not having modern communications made it possible to have chase stories like this, and whilst it's probably a bit far fetched even still it's all good fun.
furriebarry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fast paced and short. OK espionage pulp.
Gammie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was chosen by our book club as we were looking for a mystery to read and what better place to start than with an original. I can't say that I found it terribly enjoyable, but considering that it was the first of it's kind and the starting point for future spy thrillers and mysteries it was worth reading. The best part, for me, was reading the dialogue as it was written "in accent". Can't beat the Scottish brogue!
onlyhope1912 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very exciting book about a man accused of a murdering the only person who knew the secrets of the black stone and the thirty nine steps. Running from the police and the German spies, he tries to decipher a notebook written in code. This book is one exciting adventure to another, as he runs for his life. Can he manage to save England from the black stone and find the 39 steps before it's too late?
jasonpettus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)Well well, so once again it's time for another edition of "Book Versus Movie," a concept I frankly ripped off from the Onion AV Club, in which I both read a book and see the movie based on that book in the same week, and end up writing mini-reviews of both at the same time. (Don't bother looking for the "Book Versus Movie" archive page, by the way -- you've only missed one other, concerning the Alan Moore comic From Hell.) And today's it's none other than The 39 Steps, with both a book and movie version that I've wanted to get exposed to for a long time now; the 1915 novella, after all, is one of the first spy stories ever written, while the 1935 movie was one of Alfred Hitchcock's first big hits, long before he moved to Hollywood and made the films he's now most known for. (And if this title seems particularly familiar these days, by the way, it's because there's a new comedic stage version of the story playing on Broadway right now, in which four actors play every single part in a gonzo quick-change style.) Just the title alone invokes strange and pleasant emotions to us fans of turn-of-the-century "weird" fiction, of foggy nights and mysterious stairways, and it's a project I've been looking forward to for a long time now.And indeed, let me confess that the novella doesn't disappoint at all, or at least to existing fans of that transitional period of arts history; because that's something important to remember about The 39 Steps as you read it, that much like GK Chesterton or the Futurist art movement, this was penned in a strange twenty-year period in history (1900 to 1920) that fell directly between Romanticism and Modernism, a period that basically bridged these two movements precisely through wild experimentation and the birth of many of our modern artistic "genres." It is a crucial book to read, for example, if you are a fan of mysteries, secret-agent thrillers and the like; it's one of the books that literally defined those genres, a step above and beyond the pulpy "dime novels" that Buchan himself admits in the dedication was a major inspiration behind his own story. (Turns out that he and a friend were both guilty obsessive fans of pulp fiction, and thought it'd be funny to write their own homages; ironically, of course, it's this homage that is now much more known than the pulp stories that inspired it.)The tale of bored young intellectual Richard Hannay, a British South African who has recently moved to London and just hates it, our hero is actually just about to move back home when he is suddenly swept into a world of international intrigue by his next-door neighbor, a paranoid little weasel named Scudder who claims to be an undercover agent of the government, and who has stumbled across a corporate/anarchist conspiracy to assassinate a minor Greek ambassador and thus trigger a global war*. Scudder ends up dying under mysterious circumstances while hiding in Hannay's apartment, leading to him getting framed for murder; and this is just enough of an excuse to get Hannay on the run, leading to the action-based plot that takes him from one side of the UK to the other, into and out of a series of traps, and even the object of a monoplane chase back when hardly any planes actually existed. It's an exciting tale, one with all the usual twists and turns we expect now from the genre, told in a competent style that shakes off the flowery Victorianism that at the time was just ending its dominance of the arts; a thoroughly modern novel, in other words, or I guess I should say "proto-modern," one of the many above-average projects from this transitional period of history to highly influence the mature Modernists who came after.Twenty years later, then, a young Alfred Hitchcock realized what a great story this
JDHoliday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love this book! I grew up watching the Million Dollars Movies on TV with my mother and one of the greatest movies to this day, I think, is The Thirty-nine Steps, Produced by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat (1905 to 1958) and Madeline Carroll (1906 to 1987.) So I was in for an awakening when I read the original book by John Buchan (1875 to 1940.) In The Thirty-nine Steps written is 1915 you follow Richard Hannay, who must decipher a murdered man's code book while threading through a maze of murder and mystery from England to Scotland and back again. You fall in love with the Scottish countryside as Hannay evades the German spies leading to the first World War and British police who think he has murdered the one man who knows how Germany will destroy the Britsh navy. With its 113 pages, The Thirty-nine Steps is a quick and wonderful read!
cwflatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
fun clean tale of adventure.
Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A series of endless and boring chase scenes set to terribly dated colloquialisms. I read it because it is the original spy thriller. They could only get better. (And this guy was made Governor General of Canada? Yikes.)
ggarfield on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is simply a fabulously atmospheric yarn which starts with a murder in London, is followed by a suspenseful chase through the moors, mountains and streams of Scotland and ends with a nail biting evening on the coast on England ¿ but you¿ll just have to read it to find out.
391 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. It's a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Those who dislike 39 Steps may not enjoy Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. Published in 1903, Churchill credited its theme of Germany's expanding military, especially naval expansion, with the British Admiralty's addition of naval bases. See Wikipedia entry on Childers. Criticisms here of 39...ring true yet I also note that Hannay's restlessness in the colonies and in London express the restlessness of many, especially the young. The class differences, as in the scene when he gets on the train in old clothes and moves to a 3rd class car having paid for a 1st class ticket because of the complaints of another passenger, and the anti-Semitic remarks he overhears, seem to give the 21st ceniury reader some grounding in what were more common attitudes a hundred years back (though they exist to this day). So, in spite of its shortcomings especially the good guys vs. the bad guys, I enjoyed The 39 Steps.
WhisperingStories More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wish that most modern thriller-spy stories wete as good as this. Highly recommended! aj west
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A classic thriller well worth the read. ~*~LEB~*~
glauver More than 1 year ago
The Thirty-Nine Steps was one of the prototypes of what is now called spy fiction. Fans of LeCarre, Alistair MacLean, or Len Deighton might feel a bit let down. Richard Hannay was not a agent as we think of one, but more of an adventurer. The novel is one long chase with little letup. There is not much moral complexity; the English are good and the Germans are bad. John Buchan was a good descriptive writer, but his plots were full of holes and coincidences and don't stand scrutiny. Some of his remarks seem anti-Semitic, although I have read critics who defend him on this charge .In this novel, Hannay is the only character who stands out, probably because it is so short. Later books are better as he gathers a circle of friends to help him in his quests. The best way I can describe this book is Robert Louis Stevenson writing just before WWI.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary-MK More than 1 year ago
Well-written, fast-paced novel that stands the test of time.