The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915) 107 p.
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a WWI-era thriller by John Buchan; in the introduction, he mentions in a letter to a friend that he wrote it because he was bedridden with illness and had exhausted his own supply of easy, amusing thriller novels, so he decided to write his own. The novel follows protagonist Richard Hannay, a Scottish-born Rhodesian miner who has recently returned to the mother country and finds himself embroiled in a plot to throw Europe into war. With the man who warned Hannay of the plot soon murdered in his own flat, Hannay finds himself on the run in Scotland, pursued by both the conspirators and the British police.
I think I picked up The Thirty-Nine Steps because it was on the BBC’s Big Read, and because I recently got an ereader and was looking for public domain novels to download to test it out. It’s a relatively entertaining lark which reminded me quite a bit of Geoffrey Hosuehold’s Rogue Male (though I liked it better, since it has more variety in it) and no doubt enthralled many a soldier in the trenches of France. It moves along at a decent pace and clocks in nice and short at just over 100 pages. I’m just not sure why it’s so famous or why it made the Big Read list – there are probably hundreds of thrillers from the era that are of about the same quality. The Thirty-Nine Steps is entertaining enough, but if you die without reading it your life wasn’t necessarily a waste.