“Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.” – John Buchan

I’m fairly sure I said I will ‘try’ and upload one review a day. This one’s only 11 days late!

The Thirty-Nine Steps ― John Buchan


John Buchan published this little novel in 1915. The newest edition has been published as part of Penguin’s Great Books for Boys collection, and it really is a great book for boys. On a side note, I actually came across this hidden on my partner’s book shelf, a lovingly inscribed present from his grandfather.

I have heard elsewhere that everyone has an inner adventurer that will love books such as this. While this may be true for some, I think it is misleading to say everyone loves an adventure. If you do however, this is the book for you.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is set four weeks before the commencement of World War I. The story is that of Richard Hannay and his unlikely entanglement in a German plot to steal secrets from the British military. The story begins with Hannay lamenting on how boring life has become, and wondering if leaving the country would award him a more exciting life. This all changes when Hannay meets for the first time his upstairs neighbour.

The neighbour, Scudder, confesses to Hannay that he is in grave danger and in desperate need of a place to hide. Scudder is a US spy with knowledge of an assassination attempt, due to take place on June 15th, which if successful will ravage Europe. Hannay believes Scudder and decided to help him out. However, when the very next day Hannay arrives home to find scudder himself has been murdered, he realises just how much trouble he is landed himself in. With both the police and the killers after him, Hannay decides to go on the run until the assassination is due to take place, with the hope of stopping murder before it’s too late.

Hannay is chased through England to the harsh Scottish wilderness, pursued by a mysterious aeroplane, as well as the London police. The novel follows Hannay through exciting chase scenes and incredibly narrow escapes, all while Hannay tries crack the code in Scudder’s diary – the key discovering where and when the assassination will occur. Hannay discovers the kindness of strangers who prove invaluable to his journey. An adventure loving reader will be kept engrossed by the mystery of “the thirty-nine steps”, Hannay must discover the meaning of this riddle in a race against time.

While this book isn’t necessarily the sort of thing I would normally choose to read, I did actually quite enjoy it. Although I do feel it’s more of a boy’s book – I think it would make a fantastic gift for a young boy who loves to read.  I won’t spoil the ending; nothing ruins an adventure like a spoiler.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this book was the attention to detail Buchan used when describing scenes and people. I love the way Hannay can go from looking like a fine upstanding gentleman, to a dishevelled traveller, to a weathered road worker, and back again while all the time his image is kept meticulously clear in your mind.

I cannot stress enough that this is definitely a book for adventure lovers, and I feel it may also be appropriate for those with an interest in World War I.  Having been set around the time of the war itself it may be interesting to examine the novel in relation to history. Buchan is said to perfectly capture the feel of the time period.

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