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on 20 December 2008
First published in 1915 when Europe was locked in conflict triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in the Balkans, John Buchan's Thirty-Nine Steps takes the tensions and conspiracies which led Europe to war as the backdrop for his timeless adventure story.

The lead character Richard Hannay, is simply a bored Gentleman in London pining for South Africa and his native Scotland until a man is murdered in his flat after pouring out in panic the details of a conspiracy which threatened war against the United Kingdom. Richard Hannay effortlessly takes up the dead man's position as he attempts to prevent national disaster whilst hunted by foreign conspirators and British police alike.

The author describes his novel, in a dedication to his friend Thomas Nelson at the beginning of the book, as a ``shocker' - the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible'. Certainly Richard Hannay has a remarkable ability to extract himself from the most difficult of situations throughout the tale.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is truly an adventure story because it takes an ordinary person as its hero. Richard Hannay is plunged into the adventure as suddenly as the reader and so there is an immediate connection. The author shamelessly betrays his love for the genre citing Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle as masters of adventure and crime writing within the book. This passion for the genre is very apparent and Buchan writes with a subtle humour throughout, evidence of how much he clearly enjoyed creating the story. Equally apparently is his love of the Scottish countryside which is described delightfully throughout and poetically at times, as are the host of minor characters which populate the landscape.

The story develops at pace and Hannay's chase from London across Scotland and back down to the South Coast means that without warning the reader finds himself tearing through the final chapter for resolution. The fact that the book is over all too soon can hardly be seen as a fault and whilst it could be said that Buchan's style can at times be rushed The Thirty-Nine Steps is a classic which should be approached without too much cynicism. Read it as it was read by soldier's in the trenches in a Europe where it must have constantly have felt that dark subversive forces were at play, forces which, it must have been felt, would prosper were it not for the improbable heroics of brave Brits like Richard Hannay.
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on 17 January 2012
This must be the third 39 Steps Kindle book I've reviewed this week, but sometimes it is worth making a point -- especially when such a terrific work of literature is at stake. This is not quite as bad as the two other editions I reviewed. But it is, again, the same text stolen from Project Gutenberg and without any typos or formatting issues corrected.

Ugly sepia stills from the film have been interspersed throughout. They do not improve matters.

I think 'one-click' purchasing is all that keeps some of these appalling editions alive. There are one or two very attractive, carefully edited and formatted editions of the 39 Steps available. A quick 15 seconds of clicking through Amazon search results will reveal them to you. This is not one of them.
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on 9 October 2007
Small as it is (barely a hundred pages), this book amply makes up for that lack of quantity by its sheer quality. Richard Hannay has just returned from South Africa and is barely back in London when a man is found murdered in his rooms ('There was a long knife through his heart which skewered him to the floor.' Don't you just love this kind of stuff? I know I do!). He sets out for his native Scotland, always just a step ahead of the police... not once does the pace of the story slacken until the very end, and you'll be reading it teeth on edge.

'The thirty-nine steps' was first published in 1915, but in my opinion it's still one of the very best suspense stories ever!
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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. 5 stars all round.
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on 24 January 2012
It's a classic story which I hadn't read for years, and since I got a Kindle (a wonderful product!!) thought here's an opportunity to read it again.

The words are certainly there, but what happened to any formatting? Chapter One ends, the next line is Chapter Two's heading, but without any spaces goes straight into the text..... I thought my Kindle was acting up, so did the old computing trick of going back a page then reloading it - no difference!! I'd noticed a few instances of missing spaces in Chapter 1, but by this point was just becoming an irritation and taking away any sense of being involved with the story.

So, checked out an alternative edition (see all the reviews) which somebody had taken the bother to do a little work on the layout and then deleted this version.

Now back into enjoying the story and a learned a lesson in trying before buying....
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on 30 November 2012
John Buchan's 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' is a terrific spy story. Fast-paced, characterful, atmospheric and well-written, this classic is the exemplar for genre thriller writing. The plot device is that the central character, somewhat a dilettante in the spying game but no blunderer, always seems one step ahead of his pursuers, if by chance or accident as much as skill.

There is an interesting paradox in that the characters and story are quintessentially English, yet most of the real action is set in Galloway and the central character 'Richard Hannay' (clearly modelled after Buchan himself) is a Scotsman brought-up in South Africa. I loved the beautiful, evocative way in which Galloway is described. It is clear this is a part of the world that Buchan loves. I also admire the refreshing succinctness of this novel: at just over one hundred pages, it's relatively short and can be read in one sitting.

Just one word of warning about the Penguin Popular Classics edition that I read: what could mar the experience slightly for a first-time reader is that the blurb on the back cover of this edition does give the game away somewhat.
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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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First serialised in Blackwood’s Magazine and then published in book form the same year (1915) this novel has never been out of print, and is probably the most famous thriller in the English language. Here is also the first time we meet the character Richard Hannay, who appeared in other novels by Buchan.

Hannay, who has been in Rhodesia is currently residing in London, but is thinking of returning to South Africa as he feels boredom set in. But soon this is all to change when a neighbour fakes his own death and stays with Hannay. This man is a spy and has a big tale to tell of the assassination of a leader and a war that will follow. Our hero believes him, especially when he is murdered in his flat and thus Hannay is the prime suspect for murder. Taking to his heels we follow Hannay as he travels to Scotland playing a cat and mouse game with the police, and German spies.

Always trying to stay one step ahead our hero has to decipher the meaning of the thirty nine steps. This is really a novel that needs no introduction as I expect most people have read it before, but if you have only seen the Hitchcock film version you will be in for a bit of a surprise, after all there is no hanging from the hand of Big Ben in this story.

From London to Scotland, then back to London and then Kent this is a prime piece of escapism despite some coincidences and helpful people always showing up at the right moment. Those who know all about this novel already will know this, but for those who are coming to this for the first time, or are unaware, the finale of this tale which takes place in a small town in Kent called Bradgate is really Broadstairs in the same county. Those who are familiar with the place will know the houses that have steps running to and from them, which is the inspiration for the title.

If you really think about this whilst you read it you will see that Buchan wrote something which just about stretches credulity but you tend to ignore this as you get so caught up in the tale. This was a device that Buchan himself readily admitted, and used the same formula of coincidences and helpful people at just the right time in other tales.
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on 27 October 2011
This book is not as described. I chose this edition because it was an illustrated edition. First problem : The illustrations are of extremely poor quality and of little if any relevance to the story. They appear at random points in the narrative and are mostly totally ambiguous in content. My second concern is more serious. I know the Kindle edition only costs 86p, but if you click on a chapter heading you are taken to the Kindle web browser where you see the relevant chapter in the FREE Gutenberg electronic library. Surely Amazon aren't pulling a fast one and charging for a free electronic edition, including a few pointless fuzzy etchings to justify the price? Even at 86p that would be a dirty trick.....
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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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