I ripped through The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. The story is quite short, a novella, but it is also a story that reads very quickly, with something exciting happening in almost every paragraph. I’ve read some terrible books lately and it was a pleasure to find myself in the capable hands of someone who could actually tell a story.
The story is narrated by Richard Hannay who made his pile in South Africa, before he came to England to spend it. Unfortunately, Hannay finds life in London boring, until his upstairs neighbour, Scudder, involves him in an adventure. Scudder tells Hannay an exciting story of a plot to kill a foreign politician and so start a war, which Scudder is working desperately to prevent. Hannay agrees to hide Scudder, but when he is mysteriously killed, Hannay goes on the run in order to continue Scudder’s cause.
Hannay goes to Scotland to hide, but is chased all over the countryside by mysterious assassins from an evil organisation called The Black Stone. He struggles to hide from their aeroplanes on the moors, but he manages to outwit his trackers using his impressive wits and daring on more than one occasion, even stealing and wrecking an expensive vehicle belonging to them. It does seem a bit of a coincidence that Hannay literally stumbles into the Black Stone’s headquarters while he is on the run in Scotland, but the harder you work, the luckier you get is what I always say…
The Thirty-Nine Steps passes my test of being able to be read aloud without me feeling like a fool. I got the feeling that the hero was only in it for the adventure, but I didn’t hold that against him. Since Hannay was bored seeing shows and dining in Colonial Clubs in London it seems reasonable that he should enjoy some genuine thrills being chased about on the moors by people who are trying to kill him.
I found it hard to believe that the story is over 100 years old. Some of the language, the racism and the events are dated, but the adventure itself is timeless. I didn’t even come close to figuring out how this would end, although the clues are all there in the story. My only quibble with The Thirty-Nine Steps is this, why didn’t Hannay’s trackers use dogs to find him? They could have finished off the search for Hannay much more quickly.
I can highly recommend The Thirty-Nine Steps to anyone who feels as if they need some excitement in their reading.