The Thirty-Nine Steps
29 August 2013 Leave a comment
Author: John Buchan.
Summary: When Richard Hannay is warned of an assassination plot that has the potential to take Britain into a war, are then discovers in his flat the murdered body of the American that warned him, he becomes a prime suspect. He flees to the moors of Scotland and a spirited chase begins as he is pursued by the police and the German spies involved with stealing British plans. Buchan’s tale unfolds into one of the seminal and most influential ‘chase’ books, mimicked by many, yet unrivalled in the tension and mystery created by his writing.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: This book starts off with a letter/dedication from the author, who talks about enjoying books in which “the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the boarders of the possible.” And that is a perfectly fine description of the book he wrote.
On the run from the police and German spies, the majority of the book follows the main character, Hannay, roaming remote parts of Scotland without a map. This book is hailed as the most influential ‘chase’ book, but i hope that means it influenced people to improve on it. The time Hannay spends on the run is intensely repetitive.
He meets kind, generous and trustworthy person after kind, generous and trustworthy person. They feed him, clothe him, give him a bed for the night and in one case nurse him back to health for 10 days. A couple of them listen to and believe without question his tale of assassination and spies.
Each time, Hannay is keen to get on and keep moving, never staying for more than a night or two if he can help it. After being given food, clothing and time to devise a plan he feels hopeful, as did i as the reader. But no. Each and every time he manages to almost instantly get himself into more trouble.
This repetitiveness lasts for a large portion of the book and generally serves no purpose. The only relevance to the plot it holds is the fact that one of the kind, generous and trustworthy people he meets helps him to get in touch with someone in the government who is able (eventually, once all the ‘chasing’ has been done) to help him.
By the time Hannay does reach this man in the government, who does believe his story and does help him, things improve massively. The last few chapters flew by in an instant compared to how long the ‘chase’ chapters seemed to take. Those were the chapters filled with actual plot, mystery and suspense. I was excited and constantly left wanting to know what would happen next. I could’ve done with the whole book being that good.
I’m not opposed to a good chase plot, but i do prefer them to actually include a bit of plot; if Hannay was actually working towards something or finding out information. Instead he was simply killing time until closer to the date of the predicted assassination, which seems entirely boring and pointless.
The writing was good, and the beginning and the end was some pretty wonderful stuff. The idea of the ‘chase’ section of the book works, it’s just a shame it had nothing driving it and ended up rather repetitive.