Review: The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps by John Buchan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Richard Hannay’s been feeling bored with his life in London. Reading the paper one morning, Hannay sees something about a politician he admires, and next thing he knows, he’s conjured an anti-semite out of thin air to spin yarns in his parlor and tell him there is a plot to kill the admirable politician and launch Britain and Germany into war. Luckily for Hannay, this anti-semite is murdered mysteriously, leaving Hannay looking pretty suspicious, so what can he do but become the author’s wish-fulfillment and go on the run and engage in a little international espionage.

By which I mean he runs around in the fields. A lot. He hides in this field. He hides in that field. Some shadowy figures close in, and off he goes, running again.

I much prefer the move version, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. At least that has good music for all the running around parts.

This book is a series of improbable scenes of a man adopting various disguises to avoid detection while he does next to nothing of any import — until the final chapter, where he unravels it all in one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever read. Seriously. He realizes that the man sitting right in front of him with NO DISGUISE ON is a man he met and had a conversation with a few chapters earlier. And it’s treated like an ah-ha! moment.

Credit where it’s due, I suppose for being one of the first of its kind. Rumor has it this book started the spy genre. If so, I wish they’d had a better blueprint. This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. It has little resemblance to the Hitchcock film of the same title.

And they call it a classic …

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