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The Complete Richard Hannay Stories (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – July 15, 2010
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
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About the Author
John Buchan (1875-1940) was born in Perth, Scotland and educated at Oxford where he published five books and won several awards, including one for poetry. He went on to be a barrister, a member of parliament, a soldier, a publisher, a historical biographer, and - in 1935 - he became the Govenor-General of Canada. Today he is best remembered as the author of his perennially popular adventure novels --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
This exciting tale of espionage defined the man-on-the-run tale in breathless fashion, and was the first of the author’s Richard Hannay tales. What remains remarkable is the contemporary prose. Though it takes place before the first World War, offering insight into the view of what was happening at that time, the tale is timeless, and with minor changes, could easily be a thrilling espionage adventure told in our day. Books need to be judged within their context, and while most do, some don't. At least on Amazon, it has a solid four-star average after hundreds of reviews, which I feel more accurately reflects how much fun this is to read.
That's not to say some of what happens isn't implausible, almost Cornell Woolrich implausible, but with a style and pace which makes Robert Ludlum seem lethargic — no easy task — the reader is having so much fun they simply don’t care. Reading The 39 Steps is fun and exciting, which is what it is supposed to be. Watching Hannay escape time after time until the thrilling confrontation and conclusion is exhilarating.
Buchan writes as though using lighting bolts rather than a pen, and we’re just along for the electric-charged ride. The 39 Steps is the quintessential can’t-put-down read. That thrill you got as a youngster reading a mystery adventure by flashlight beneath the covers was captured by Buchan and moved forward into adulthood, and on that level it doesn't just succeed, it shines. It's on The Guardian's list for good reason.
The book differs from Hitchcock’s famous British film adaptation in that there is no love interest for Hannay here; frankly because it isn’t needed. A rollicking good old-fashioned tale that set a bar seldom reached since. Fabulous fun and quite enjoyable when read, if you don't try to compare it with modern-day spy novels.
The novel's story is very straightforward--Hannay, recently returned to "the Old Country" of England from a life spent in Africa, finds himself thoroughly bored with his new life in London. After an American spy is murdered in his apartment, Hannay finds himself on the run not only from the police, who believe him to be the murderer, but from a mysterious and malevolent organization called "The Black Stone." The Black Stone has a secret it wants to keep hidden, and eliminating Hannay would help them keep their cover.
From London into the Scottish countryside, pursued by detectives, sinister Germans in touring cars, and newfangled "aeroplanes," The Thirty-Nine Steps never stops moving, and even at its conclusion one barely has a chance to catch their breath. The story is so gripping I can easily see how it caught Alfred Hitchcock's attention as film material.
The novel is fast-moving and short--barely 100 pages. I read this book in a few hours at a slow deskjob. If I have to find fault with any one part of the book, it's that the conclusion--indeed, the very last half-page or so--didn't make perfect sense. I had to read it twice. But that's only a small problem for this otherwise fun and exciting book.
Almost a century of imitators and innovators in the spy and espionage genres--from Ian Fleming to Tom Clancy--owe Buchan a great debt. Buchan paved the way for these later authors with shockers like The Thirty-Nine Steps and its hero, Richard Hannay.
Recommended rainy-day reading.