Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review of 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' by John Buchan

June marked the two year birthday of my one true love, aka MR Kindle. So, I decided to tie up some loose ends on it. When I first got my kindle I was a little eager beaver, wanting to download a tonne of the free classics you can get on a kindle because the concept of free books was totally new to me. This was one of them, and as you can (presumably) tell, it sat on my digital bookshelf until now. Whoops. 

Since graduating last year, I've been on an anti-classics rampage. No longer governed by my professors, I've been free to read whatever I want, whenever I want, and it's been glorious. However, recently I noticed that I felt as though there was something missing in my literary life: I'm done with being wayward, and want to get back to my roots of reading anything and everything, and delving into history through classics.

So, with a little spring in my step, I finally embarked upon reading The Thirty-Nine Steps ... and was met with a dark, almost Gothic novel. Did you ever read The Secret Seven or The Famous Five as a child? Well imagine them, but with a little more death and dark mystery, and you have The Thirty-Nine Steps. Even the title has an almost Blyton-esque air doesn't it?

Buchan himself described the novel as a 'shocker' - something which shocks the reader, but liminally remains believable. When I was reading the novel, I was faced with the query - why has this gone down in history as a classic? It's a good book, but the storyline is nothing too special. However, what I failed to recognise at this point is that the book was extraordinary at the time of publication. Modern filmmakers and writers often feature plots that are based around a man on the run, a thriller of movement - this was one of the very first of the type to be published.

Richard Hannay, the novel's protagonist and narrator, is instantly intrigued when a man appears on his doorstep declaring to be 'already dead'. Soon, Hannay is informed that the man has faked his own death, and needs somewhere to hide out from the people that are hunting him. So Hannay, ever resourceful, helps the 'dead man' Scudder to find a real dead body and arrange it so that no one will be able to tell that Scudder is alive and free. Their plan all goes well until Hannay returns to his apartment one night to discover that Scudder has in fact now really been murdered. Feeling implicated in his new found friend's death, Hannay feels as though there is nothing for it but to continue Scudder's work.

It's 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. Scudder is not merely some unimportant man living amidst the masses in London, but a spy, trying to save England from invasion. Now that he's gone, it's up to Hannay to pick up where he left off. The only problem? Now he's on the run, and the only thing he has to help him is the little coded black book Scudder left behind.

If you're a fan of murder mysteries, then this is definitely something I would add onto your to-read list of Summer 2016!


  1. Been wantting to read this for ages! Definitely going to soon!! x

    1. It was such a nice easy read for a classic!

      Steph x