Top positive review
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A must for anyone who ever dreamt of adventure. Brilliant!
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.