The 39 Steps - John Buchan

I originally came across The 39 Steps when it was listed in the BBC’s The Big Read in 2003 as one of Britain’s favourite books. Buchan’s book came in 138th place.

Having now read the book, I’d like to know how this book even made the list. Just HOW???

Sure this book (published in 1915) was one of the pre-Bond early spy thrillers, sure the story was turned into a Hitchcock classic, but the only reason I can see that the book has made the list is that people who nominated it might have remembered the film better than the book itself.

The book was seriously one of the silliest, nonsensical farces of a spy thriller I have ever come across – and I am saying this as someone who likes a spy thriller that doesn’t take itself too serious.

Anyway, I am not going to write a full rant review of all of the issues I had with the book, but instead am just going to list my previous reading vents updates.


Reading progress update: I’ve read 20%.

None of this makes a lot of sense so far unless the MC suffers from some serious paranoia.

Reading progress update: I’ve read 35%.

‘A Colonial,’ he cried. ‘By Gad, you’re the very man I’ve been praying for. Are you by any blessed chance a Free Trader?’
‘I am,’ said I, without the foggiest notion of what he meant. 

And of course, because all Colonials are the same, no one will ever notice that he’s about to pass himself off as an expert on Australia even tho his background is South African.

This story is really stupid. Oh, gawds, … how is this a revered classic?

Reading progress update: I’ve read 54%.

I stalked over the border of coarse hill gravel and entered the open veranda door. Within was a pleasant room, glass on one side, and on the other a mass of books. More books showed in an inner room. On the floor, instead of tables, stood cases such as you see in a museum, filled with coins and queer stone implements.

There was a knee-hole desk in the middle, and seated at it, with some papers and open volumes before him, was the benevolent old gentleman. His face was round and shiny, like Mr Pickwick’s, big glasses were stuck on the end of his nose, and the top of his head was as bright and bare as a glass bottle. He never moved when I entered, but raised his placid eyebrows and waited on me to speak.

I mean, even casual anti-Semitism and idiotic plots aside, there are lots of things wrong with this story, but wtf are “placid eyebrows”?

Reading progress update: I’ve read 65%.

It was a wonderful starry night, and I had not much difficulty about the road. Sir Harry’s map had given me the lie of the land, and all I had to do was to steer a point or two west of south-west to come to the stream where I had met the roadman. In all these travels I never knew the names of the places, but I believe this stream was no less than the upper waters of the river Tweed. I calculated I must be about eighteen miles distant, and that meant I could not get there before morning.

So I must lie up a day somewhere, for I was too outrageous a figure to be seen in the sunlight. I had neither coat, waistcoat, collar, nor hat, my trousers were badly torn, and my face and hands were black with the explosion. I daresay I had other beauties, for my eyes felt as if they were furiously bloodshot. Altogether I was no spectacle for God-fearing citizens to see on a highroad.

So, our “hero” is shocked and bruised and disorientated from the explosion, and yet, he manages to find his bearings navigating by the stars.
Ok. Fair enough. I have once done so myself in the early hours after a football event in Munich. Sure, I’ll buy it.

But how, just HOW???, does he manage to read a map and scramble across the moors in the pitch dark with only the light of the stars?

I am not kidding. He’s miles from nowhere in the Scottish countryside. It’s 1914, so little chance of bright lights from nearby villages or anywhere.
He also mentions that the moon was in the last quarter, so not very bright.
How on earth does he see where he is going…for 18 miles! Without getting stuck in the peat bogs or breaking his ankles?

Reading progress update: I’ve read 82%.

‘Nonsense!’ said the official from the Admiralty. Sir Walter got up and left the room while we looked blankly at the table. He came back in ten minutes with a long face. ‘I have spoken to Alloa,’ he said. ‘Had him out of bed—very grumpy. He went straight home after Mulross’s dinner.’

I can only assume that this book may have inspired Agatha Christie’s spy thrillers. It certainly would explain the unexplainable – that is, The Big Four and Passenger to Frankfurt.




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