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Book Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

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First published in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps is John Buchan’s first book in which Richard Hannay has one of his many adventures. This newest edition is part of Penguin’s Great Books for Boys collection, which focuses on celebrating the adventurer within every boy. It’s not just boys who have an inner adventurer. The series, whether you’re young or old, male or female, will appeal to those who enjoy a thrilling edge-of-your-seat read.  

Set just four weeks before World War I, The Thirty-Nine Steps is the story of Richard Hannay and his entanglement with international spies and a German plot to steal British military secrets. He is bored with London life and is considering moving on when he meets his seemingly normal upstairs neighbor. The man, who begs to be let into his apartment, soon tells a tale too grand to be a lie.

He is an American spy with knowledge of an assassination to take place on June 15th and that will rock Europe. Upon hearing the truth in the man’s words, Richard decides to help him. When he arrives home one evening to discover the spy’s body with a knife sticking through the heart, Richard realizes how entangled he has become. With one man murdered and the killers after him, Richard decides to run – and stay on the run until the 15th comes around so he can try to prevent the murder of another innocent man.  

Through the wilds of Scotland, Richard is chased by a dark, unknown enemy, as well as his own country’s police. Between frantic chase scenes and thrilling escapes, Richard tries to unlock the secrets held in the murdered American spy’s diary. The diary is the key to it all, and Richard could save the day if only he could discover what “the thirty-nine steps” means before it’s too late.   

One of the things I loved so much about this book was the feel for the era. It helps that it was written about the time the novel took place. I just don’t think, no matter how meticulously you do your research, that a modern author could have hit the same chords or achieved the same feeling. From the language and settings to the places and people, The Thirty-Nine Steps is perfect entertainment.   

The book is short, just 160 pages, and you’ll want to read it all in one go. From the moment you first meet Richard as he becomes embroiled in a plot that covers nations, you just can’t put the book down. Honestly, why would you want to?

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About Katie T. Buglet

  • Diana Hartman

    i love a review that leaves me with the overwhelming need to read the book…well done…