The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, was first published in 1915.
Richard Hannay is an adventurer. He is in London, after several years in Rhodesia. A Scotsman by birth, Hannay hasn’t been to England since he was six years old. He finds London exciting at first, but soon becomes bored with the city. He plans to leave for South Africa as soon as he can.
One evening, while returning home to his London flat, he is confronted by a neighbor he doesn’t know. The neighbor, an American from Kentucky, invites himself into Hannay’s flat, and locks the door behind them. The neighbor introduces himself as a dead man.
The American neighbor’s name is Franklin P. Scudder. He tells Hannay that he’s a spy, and that he’s uncovered an anarchist plot to destabilize European authority. Mr. Scudder has faked his own death in order to work without detection. Hannay agrees to let Mr. Scudder hide in his flat.
Mr. Scudder hides out in Hannay’s flat for four days. Then Hannay comes home on the fourth evening to find his guest on the floor, with a knife in his chest. Franklin P. Scudder had become an actual dead man.
In a state of panic, not quite trusting either the police or the government, and afraid of Mr. Scudder’s enemies, Hannay finds Mr. Scudder’s notebook, disguises himself, and flees to Scotland.
Life is no longer dull for Richard Hannay.
As Hannay hides out in Scotland, he uses his gift for puzzles to decipher the coded notes in Scudder’s book. He learns that he is in middle of something quite different from what Scudder had told him. There was one repeated phrase in the notebook, however, which Hanney could not make heads or tails of: “(‘Thirty-nine steps’)”.
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a classic man-on-the-run thriller. The book follows the adventures, and misadventures, of Hannay as he avoids capture in the countryside of Scotland. He pretends to be an expert on Free Trade, and gives a lecture. He pretends to be a road worker. He relies on the hospitality of farmers. He is driven by a strong sense of patriotism, for if Scudder’s notes are accurate, the future of Great Britain is at stake.
The antiquated language, and the Scottish dialog, made reading this 113-page book slow at times, but it held my interest all the way through. I enjoyed it.
- An espionage thriller