Friday, 22 June 2012

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (4/5)

Goodreads says: He has been feeling bored with London life - until he discovers a dead man in his flat, skewered to the floor with a knife through his heart. Only a few days before, the victim had warned him of an assassination plot that could bring the country to the brink of war.

An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the murderer, ordinary man Richard Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland. There, on the wild moors, he must use all his wits to stay one step ahead of the game - and warn the government of the impending danger before it is too late.

I say: I didn’t know anything about The Thirty-Nine Steps or John Buchan before I started reading this. It was a part of my 100 Classics Challenge and so I had no choice but to read it. However, as proven quite often with this classics challenge, I actually wound up really liking it. If I had read the synopsis before starting to read it I would have had an issue with my prejudices, because this is the type of fiction that generally steer clear of, so

Yay for challenges!

Here is the thing about this novel that I really liked: it’s completely and full of sheer and utter nonsense. The entire plotline is ridiculous, the things that happen to Hannay improbable, and John Buchan is slowly becoming a slight hero of mine for writing this.

To be noted is that Wiki tells me that Buchan referred to the novel as a “shocker,” i.e. an adventure where the events in the story are unlikely and the reader is only just able to believe that they really happened.”

So, it was all deliberate.

There isn’t really much I can say about the plot itself because so much random nonsense happens the entire time, and once we get to all of Hannay’s smart thinking I was reminded why I don’t like detective stories. In other words, as long as it was silly and unbelievable, I could laugh and shake my head – once he started figuring out impossible things, I got bored.

Hence the 4/5.

I feel the need to quote Wiki one more time in pointing out that “The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the 'man-on-the-run' thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device.”

Which is awesome, I guess.

I downloaded this from and since they also have the remaining 4 novels about Richard Hannay, I may read them at some point as well. Also, the picture above is of the cover of the first edition of the novel, from 1915.

*This is my second entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my 100 Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).


  1. This book sounds so crazy and entertaining. I've heard of it before but had no idea what it was about. I really want to read it now because it sounds so different from anything else and a uniquely written story always gets my attention. Glad you enjoyed it and are putting a dent in your reading challenge!

  2. Yeah, it was the crazy that won me over. It's funny that I enjoyed reading this, whereas had I watched the film version I would have gotten annoyed over all the improbabilities in the plot. But yeah, go for it - and it's free on