Author Rating: A

The Thirty-Nine Steps (read 9/6/2014)

First published as a magazine serial in the last half of 1915, this is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, adventure hero.

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. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches. One soldier wrote to Buchan, “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.”

Richard Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war when Hannay continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. The other two stories, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep were set in the post war period when Hannay’s opponents were criminal gangs.

I listened to the Librivox recording read by Adrian Praetellis and enjoyed it very much. I will be on the lookout for Buchan’s other novels.

The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service (not yet read)

An early example of the espionage novel, this 1903 novel by Erskine Childers “owes a lot to the wonderful adventure novels of writers like Rider Haggard, that were a staple of Victorian Britain. It “established a formula that included a mass of verifiable detail, which gave authenticity to the story – the same ploy that would be used so well by John Buchan, Ian Fleming, John le Carré and many others.” Ken Follett called it “the first modern thriller.”

 

Available at Project Gutenberg to read online or to download to Kindle.

This is also available at Librivox but after reading the few reviews I’ll likely never read it. The first half is very technical about sailing the German North Sea coast, requiring following along on maps provided in the print version. The whole thing is described as slow and somewhat dry, with some excitement toward the end. Oh, well.