I was fascinated by the history of this 'spy novel' genre and delighted to read 39 Steps in that context. It is indeed a classic for its time.
"The 39 Steps", 1915, John Buchan. Buchan calls this novel a "shocker", their word for our "dime novel". England is on the eve of World War I. Scottish born Richard Hannay has lived most of his life out of England and now has returned for some diversion. Without any warning he is drawn into not just a fight for his own life but for the safety and lives of all of England. The writing is good and the vocabulary used here sent me to my dictionary, often without success because of the words needed for a world of 1915 England. Good action here. Alfred Hitchcock's movie by the same name is quite different than the book.
A fast-moving easy read; a straightforward spy novel. Despite being set a hundred years ago, in a pre-WW1 England, with its Old Country peculiarities including household servants everywhere and passenger trains that stop at every tiny hamlet, it doesn't really seem to be dated. As with any spy story, it requires suspension of disbelief, especially regarding the seemingly endless ingenuity of the protagonists at squeezing out of impossible situations. But that's what makes the genre so entertaining.
Enjoyable, early espionage thriller that is a little dry and a little dated. The Hitchcock film is lighter and more entertaining.
Buchan describes The Thirty-Nine Steps as a ‘shocker’ – “where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible.” His description is dead on. The novel is a romp. The situations are barely believable. The coincidences are contrived. But it’s all great escapist fun.
Fun and entertaining read from long ago.
The movie is based on the book but don't expect them to be the same. There is no woman, no romance. Hannay is an intrepid adventurer who cleverly escapes every tight situation by relying on his wits. Not a bad novel but it lacks the tension and suspense of a good spy novel.
John Buchan created the character Richard Hanney and kept him going for 5 novels. The 39 Steps has been the inspiration of movies and copy-cat writings. No one preceded Buchan but others follow him. But Buchan himself is probably more storied than his fictional creations. Maybe you would like to check the John Buchan Society? This man died in 1940 but the Society seems to be very current.
Short but full of adventure - apparently this little book was the original spy novel. Inspired me to put a hold on the Hitchcock movie. John Buchan (aka Baron Tweedsmuir) was one of our Governors General.
The book is quite different from the movies. It takes place before WWI. and the pace is slower and less exciting.
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