lørdag den 22. januar 2011

John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)



This so-called dime novel is the Scottish writer´s debut.

After several years in South Africa Richard Hannay feels terribly bored by the London weather and his countrymen. “…the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-water that has been standing in the sun.”

Hannay, who needs new friends, not sights and clubs, has almost made up his mind to return to South Africa when Scudder, a very nervous neighbour, approaches him for help. He is a war correspondent from Kentucky who has been involved in a political conspiracy involving Russia, Germany and the Jews (sorry, this was written before anyone thought of political correctness). He claims he is the only person who can prevent an assassination of the Greek Premier which is why he has arranged his own ´death´.

Hannay begins to feel more cheerful, his life has a purpose again. And when Scudder is really killed a few days later, Hannay decides to do his best to accomplish Scudder´s mission. As both the British police force and Scudder´s enemies are after him, he escapes to Scotland where he plays hide-and-seek for weeks, dressing up in the most amazing disguises. His Scottish childhood comes in very handy:

“´There´s waur jobs and there´s better,´ I said sententiously. ´I wad rather hae yours, sittin´ a´ day on your hinderlands on thae cushions. It´s you and your muckle cawrs that wreck my roads!´”

Despite the spy angle, which has never been a favourite of mine, this story was a rather fine old puzzle, including ciphers and a protagonist with all sorts of competences. Hannay is your typical bachelor gentleman, a bit of a cross between Sherlock Holmes who prefers using his little grey cells and the more physically active Lord Peter Wimsey.

This was a free book from Manybooks.net; I read it for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge # 2
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20 kommentarer:

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - Thanks for this review. I have to admit I hadn't Buchan before, although I'd heard of him. I will have to check out Manybooks.net; I'll bet there are several fine old novels there I'd enjoy. Um -*looking at looming TBR* - but maybe not today... ;-)

Dorte H sagde ...

Margot: I joined the vintage reading challenge specifically because I wanted to try some of the Golden Age & classical mysteries I´ve heard so much about. So I plan to review a handful in the winter & spring.

Kelly sagde ...

I seriously considered joining this challenge just for the reason you stated. I've read very little from that timeframe.

This one sounds quite good, despite the "spy" angle, which I'm not usually fond of, either.

Dorte H sagde ...

Kelly: if we consider when he wrote it, the spy angle may be justified - and he didn´t go into a lot of detail.

pattinase (abbott) sagde ...

Saw the movie but never read the book. THere's a play of it now which is supposed to be very good.

Clarissa Draper sagde ...

I own this book on my kindle but I haven't read it. It's on my list. I did love the Hitchcock movie though.
CD

Kerrie sagde ...

I read this back as a school text when I was 12 - it was more popular with the boys though. We also read GREENMANTLE by Buchan. The only thing I remember from that one is Mr Blenkinsop who had an ulcer and therefore had to drink milk!

Dorte H sagde ...

Patti: I usually prefer the book, but the Hitchcock film tempts me.

Clarissa: his films are brilliant, but to be honest, some of them scare the living daylights out of me (e.g. that one about the black birds).

Kerrie: I agree that it is not exactly a girls´ book! :D
I´d probably have enjoyed Miss Marple, then, and I wasn´t much older before I met Lord Peter Wimsey.

Bev Hankins sagde ...

I've always wondered about this one...again because of the spy angle which I'm not all that fond of. Thanks for the review! You make it sound much more enticing. I've got you added at the Progress/Review site: http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com/2011/01/vintage-mystery-progress-and-review.html

Dorte H sagde ...

Bev: it was a good story, and I enjoyed his ramble in Scotland, but this one may appeal more to male readers than women.

Bibliophile sagde ...

I found this book a delightful surprise when I read it, as I generally don't much like spy novels.

Dorte H sagde ...

Bibliophile: so you confirm both my ´deductions´:

Women don´t like spy novels
This one is better than most of them ;D

Lauren sagde ...

The book and the film don't actually have a lot in common - I'm rather fond of Robert Donat, but as a book adaption Hitchcock's version isn't particularly authentic!

Oh, and re: bachelor Hannay, you need to read book 3. (Mr Standfast). Book 2 (Greenmantle, as mnetioned above) is also worth a look, if you can ignore at least some of the WW1-era vintage racism.

Dorte H sagde ...

Lauren: I must try Mr Standfast - but right now I have a few Victorian classics on my list, inspired by a true murder.

Lauren sagde ...

Mr Standfast has the unusual feature of having a plot derived from Pilgrim's Progress, so that's something to look at.

(And as a 'colonial' myself, I should probably point out that this is something which does distinguish Hannay from other characters of that era!)

Ah, yes, Blenkiron and his ulcer and his milk. From memory, he has surgery and is off the milk in book 3.

(For the interested, Penguin published a Complete Richard Hannay about a decade or so ago - there are five novels altogether, plus a couple of others in which fringe characters get more page time.)

Dorte H sagde ...

Lauren: Amazon even sell that Penguin edition (The Complete Richard Hannay) at $ 13.79 for Danish customers - a very fair price indeed.

Yvette sagde ...

A favorite film and book. Though I loved the film a bit more than the book which is totally different anyway. Thanks for the review!

Dorte H sagde ...

Yvette: what surprised me was that I had found a spy story I liked.

celawerdblog sagde ...

I liked this book because it was short. If it was a full length novel I would have hated it. It's a nice short little read

Dorte H sagde ...

I don´t mind longer novels in any way, but I think writers should remember not just to make their stories long for the sake of it.