Review of ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ (John Buchan)

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps’ is a truly ageless book. Never out of print-despite first being published 100 years ago-and subject to numerous adaptations for stage and screen: notably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 masterpiece, Buchan’s masterpiece has also been adapted into three other films, and a TV series (though most took great liberties with the plot lines). There are very few books which I would be happy to sit and read once, and read several times more because of the sheer fun of the thing.

Although a little long-winded and slow at times-notably in the opening pages-once the action gets going, it is a rip-roaring yarn. As his grandson Toby Buchan said in an interview, “Buchan’s skill lies in making the unlikely not just believable, but eminently reasonable”-a remarkable skill remarkably well executed.

The story being told is that of a Scotsman in London who discovers a plot to descend Europe into an Armageddon of war, and his escapades fleeing from both the police, and German spies. Both written and set in 1914, it is a poignant reminder of the beginnings of the Great War, and even at the time was often to be found being read in the home nations-or indeed in the trenches.

I think everyone has had thoughts about what they would do if they had to flee the authorities-even the SAS use it as a training and initiative process. Buchan brilliantly explores such thoughts, but as aforementioned, uses all sorts of outlandish, and if viewed individually, unbelievable ploys. But in the context of the book, I agree with Toby Buchan-they are all made to seem perfectly plausible, and therein lies John Buchan’s magic.

Price-£1.99 paperback ($3.95) (be aware that there are editions of this from various publishers at a range of prices)

£6.09 hardback ($14.60)

£0.00 Kindle ($0.00)

Publishing house-various

Publishing date-1915

Value for money-excellent given it is with multiple publishing houses, Kindle price excellent, and paperback is basically cost of assembling with small profit-★★★★★

Character development-Richard Hanning is a likable hero who has a developed past, but other characters appear fairly shallow-★★

Readability-very enjoyable, one to read over and over-★★★★★

Overall-it may not be perfect, but it’s my kind of book-a good main character, not too expensive, and very readable-★★★★★

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