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The Thirty-Nine Steps: John Buchan - A `shocker', but in a good way!

There is a plot spoiler in the following review.

Written in 1915 as he convalesced, The Thirty Nine Steps was the first of what John Buchan called his `shockers', or adventure stories.

Set in the months preceding the outbreak of the first world war, the novel introduces us to Buchan's enduring hero, Richard Hannay. Coming home one night he finds a mysterious man on his doorstep asking for his help. Being an adventurer and recognising someonein true need he lets him in. This leads to a whole series of adventures as the mysterious man is murdered and Hannay finds himself on the run from the murderers (who fear what he knows) and the police. Buchan then writes a brilliant story of a cat and mouse chase across the highlands of Scotland, as Hannay fights to remain free of capture by either side, and tries to work out just what is at the heart of it all. That particular mystery leads him to a deep plot that strikes at the very security of the county, breathtaking in its magnitude.

It's a classic piece, and we really get to know (and like) Hannay. OK, so a lot of the time he has extraordinary luck as well as his wits (a room the villains lock him in just happens to contain a handy store of torches and explosives...) but the adventure is so full of charm, and the stakes so high and the story so exciting that you can forgive its few shortcomings. It's a classic, no, THE classic adventure story of one man on the run fighting against all the odds. 4 sequels were to follow featuring Hannay, and many authors attempted to copy the style, but no one ever really matched the verve, vigour and excitement of the original. 5 stars all round.
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The Thirty-Nine Steps: John Buchan, abridged reading by James Fox. A `shocker' - in a good way!

There is a plot spoiler in the following review.

Written in 1915 as he convalesced, The Thirty Nine Steps was the first of what John Buchan called his `shockers', or adventure stories.

Set in the months preceding the outbreak of the first world war, the novel introduces us to Buchan's enduring hero, Richard Hannay. Coming home one night he finds a mysterious man on his doorstep asking for his help. Being an adventurer and recognising someonein true need he lets him in. This leads to a whole series of adventures as the mysterious man is murdered and Hannay finds himself on the run from the murderers (who fear what he knows) and the police. Buchan then writes a brilliant story of a cat and mouse chase across the highlands of Scotland, as Hannay fights to remain free of capture by either side, and tries to work out just what is at the heart of it all. That particular mystery leads him to a deep plot that strikes at the very security of the county, breathtaking in its magnitude.

It's a classic piece, and we really get to know (and like) Hannay. OK, so a lot of the time he has extraordinary luck as well as his wits (a room the villains lock him in just happens to contain a handy store of torches and explosives...) but the adventure is so full of charm, and the stakes so high and the story so exciting that you can forgive its few shortcomings. It's a classic, no, THE classic adventure story of one man on the run fighting against all the odds. 4 sequels were to follow featuring Hannay, and many authors attempted to copy the style, but no one ever really matched the verve, vigour and excitement of the original.

This abridged reading by James Fox is a decent affair. It's a long time since I read the actual book, and whatever cuts were made were not immediately obvious to me. The story flows along nicely. Fox has the perfect voice for the job, in fact after listening to this I feel that he would have made a good on screen Hannay. His plummy tones wrap themselves around Buchan's prose, and you really feel like you are in the company of the Edwardian adventurer relating his tale to some friends at his club. He has a good voice for audio books, able to distinguish between many characters with slight vocal inflections rather than having to resort to the vocal gymnastics and outrageous accents of lesser readers. The whole thing comes to 2 hours 15 minutes and they just flew by.

On two discs with no liner notes, the presentation is pretty basic. But the contents are excellent. 5 stars all round.
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There is a plot spoiler in the following review.

Written in 1915 as he convalesced, The Thirty Nine Steps was the first of what John Buchan called his `shockers', or adventure stories.

Set in the months preceding the outbreak of the first world war, the novel introduces us to Buchan's enduring hero, Richard Hannay. Coming home one night he finds a mysterious man on his doorstep asking for his help. Being an adventurer and recognising someonein true need he lets him in. This leads to a whole series of adventures as the mysterious man is murdered and Hannay finds himself on the run from the murderers (who fear what he knows) and the police. Buchan then writes a brilliant story of a cat and mouse chase across the highlands of Scotland, as Hannay fights to remain free of capture by either side, and tries to work out just what is at the heart of it all. That particular mystery leads him to a deep plot that strikes at the very security of the county, breathtaking in its magnitude.

It's a classic piece, and we really get to know (and like) Hannay. OK, so a lot of the time he has extraordinary luck as well as his wits (a room the villains lock him in just happens to contain a handy store of torches and explosives...) but the adventure is so full of charm, and the stakes so high and the story so exciting that you can forgive its few shortcomings. It's a classic, no, THE classic adventure story of one man on the run fighting against all the odds. 4 sequels were to follow featuring Hannay, and many authors attempted to copy the style, but no one ever really matched the verve, vigour and excitement of the original.

This abridged reading by James Fox is a decent affair. It's a long time since I read the actual book, and whatever cuts were made were not immediately obvious to me. The story flows along nicely. Fox has the perfect voice for the job, in fact after listening to this I feel that he would have made a good on screen Hannay. His plummy tones wrap themselves around Buchan's prose, and you really feel like you are in the company of the Edwardian adventurer relating his tale to some friends at his club. He has a good voice for audio books, able to distinguish between many characters with slight vocal inflections rather than having to resort to the vocal gymnastics and outrageous accents of lesser readers. The whole thing comes to 2 hours 15 minutes and they just flew by.

On two discs with no liner notes, the presentation is pretty basic. But the contents are excellent. 5 stars all round.

0Comment|One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
There is a plot spoiler in the following review.

Written in 1915 as he convalesced, The Thirty Nine Steps was the first of what John Buchan called his `shockers', or adventure stories.

Set in the months preceding the outbreak of the first world war, the novel introduces us to Buchan's enduring hero, Richard Hannay. Coming home one night he finds a mysterious man on his doorstep asking for his help. Being an adventurer and recognising someonein true need he lets him in. This leads to a whole series of adventures as the mysterious man is murdered and Hannay finds himself on the run from the murderers (who fear what he knows) and the police. Buchan then writes a brilliant story of a cat and mouse chase across the highlands of Scotland, as Hannay fights to remain free of capture by either side, and tries to work out just what is at the heart of it all. That particular mystery leads him to a deep plot that strikes at the very security of the county, breathtaking in its magnitude.

It's a classic piece, and we really get to know (and like) Hannay. OK, so a lot of the time he has extraordinary luck as well as his wits (a room the villains lock him in just happens to contain a handy store of torches and explosives...) but the adventure is so full of charm, and the stakes so high and the story so exciting that you can forgive its few shortcomings. It's a classic, no, THE classic adventure story of one man on the run fighting against all the odds. 4 sequels were to follow featuring Hannay, and many authors attempted to copy the style, but no one ever really matched the verve, vigour and excitement of the original.

This abridged reading by James Fox is a decent affair. It's a long time since I read the actual book, and whatever cuts were made were not immediately obvious to me. The story flows along nicely. Fox has the perfect voice for the job, in fact after listening to this I feel that he would have made a good on screen Hannay. His plummy tones wrap themselves around Buchan's prose, and you really feel like you are in the company of the Edwardian adventurer relating his tale to some friends at his club. He has a good voice for audio books, able to distinguish between many characters with slight vocal inflections rather than having to resort to the vocal gymnastics and outrageous accents of lesser readers. The whole thing comes to 2 hours 15 minutes and they just flew by.

On two discs with no liner notes, the presentation is pretty basic. But the contents are excellent. 5 stars all round.

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on 14 May 2010
It must be over sixty years since I last read this book, and it is even better than I remembered: a gripping, crisply-told suspense story. Not all of my favourite childhood authors stand the test of time- Stevenson and Haggard come to mind- but Buchan does. I read the book in a single session, and will now re-read the other Hannay novels.
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on 9 November 2013
This must have been an early example of modern spy/cold war novels. It moved with considerable pace and if events were a little coincidental and convenient thist did not spoil the thrill of the chase.
Certain examples of early thirties thinking about various peoples which are not PC today but gave a 'real feel' of the era.
A good read
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on 2 August 2013
I enjoyed reading it - a good yarn - but it doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny. Hannay has to get out of London and can go anywhere ... he randomly chooses Scotland, (a very nice place but also very big). Whilst running around Scotland he just happens to stumble across the villains lair. Also, to foil the baddies he needs to speak to the Government and, as luck would have it, he just happens to bump into, (literally), the God son of the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office ... as you do!
If you ignore the impausible coincidences, its a good story. One of those rare cases where the film is better than the book, (thinking of the 1959 Kenneth More version).
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on 8 September 2015
The book, as is stated at the beginning, was deliberately written as an implausible adventure story where the hero keeps on escaping by the skin of his teeth, rather like the comic strip stories that appeared in weekly magazines. It's set in the year 1914.

Richard Hannay is the protagonist, a wealthy engineer who has been living in London for a while but is bored with the lifestyle. Then, as he’s about to give up his flat and leave, a stranger arrives on his doorstep with a worrying story about international politics and intrigue…

Over the next few weeks, Hannay's life is far from mundane. He flees to Scotland, and takes refuge with a series of unlikely people. He dons many disguises, and, in teenage adventure story style, escapes each scenario by cleverness or luck, before finally returning to London. The story is told in the first person, so it's not a spoiler to say that he escapes.

Inevitably most of the other people in the story are caricatured like comic strip stereotypes. But the writing is good, albeit a bit dated, but that's hardly surprising. It's fast-paced and exciting, with just enough description to set each scene. In many places there is politically incorrect commentary, but that’s par for the course with this era and style of writing.

‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ is just over 100 pages long so I read it in a few hours. The ending is rather abrupt; but the final paragraph slots extremely well into the realities of world history.

This isn’t a thriller in the modern sense of the word, but it’s one of the earliest of the genre, now considered a classic, and may have inspired subsequent novels on similar themes. It has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, but still, I would recommend it to anyone, teen or adult, who is interested in literature from this era.
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on 27 May 2013
I love the style of these little classic books. Quite 'old fashioned' in style with the guild edge. Being a big fan of the movie 'The 39 Steps' - Alfred Hitchcock i always wanted to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed the read although it was quite different from the movie which i guess is to only be expected.....after all hollywood have to glam it up a bit!! i look forward to adding more of these lovely little books to my collection. Definate keepsakes of some of our greatest classics. Any sign of them doing Agatha Christie's classics?
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on 16 March 2013
The intro states the book has been written to entertain the author and his friend. Read in that context it's an entertaining, if rather tall tale and it felt as though the author were relating events directly to me in an attempt to entertain rather than convince me. I imagine his friend would have been delighted with it.

Buchan makes good use of the landscape and small details to distract the reader's attention from implausible situations and coincidences that stop this being believable. It's a fun read.
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