The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Lovereading4Kids comment

A classic spy thriller, chosen by February 2011 Guest Editor Tim Bowler:

"I read this when I was thirteen and it's the first book that showed me what a good thriller can do. From its taut opening where the frightened Scudder begs Hannay for help only to be stabbed to death by an unseen hand, the tension never lets up. Chase follows chase with the net closing ever more tightly all the way to the final chapter where Hannay confronts his enemies and looks into the 'inhuman luminosity' of their leader's eyes. A classic thriller and one of my all-time favourites."


The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life in London. But then a murder is committed in his flat, just days after a chance encounter with an American who had told him about an assassination plot which could have dire international consequences. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland where he will need all his courage and ingenuity to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.

About the Author

John Buchan

John Buchan led a truly extraordinary life: he was a diplomat, soldier, barrister, journalist, historian, politician, publisher, poet and novelist. He was born in Perth in 1875, the eldest son of a Free Church of Scotland minister, and educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar School in Glasgow. He graduated from Glasgow University then took a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford. During his time there – ‘spent peacefully in an enclave like a monastery’ – he wrote two historical novels.

In 1901 he became a barrister of the Middle Temple and a private secretary to the High Commissioner for South Africa. In 1907 he married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor; they had three sons and a daughter. After spells as a war correspondent, Lloyd George’s Director of Information and a Conservative MP, Buchan – now Sir John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield - moved to Canada in 1935 where he had been appointed Governor-General.

Despite poor health throughout his life, Buchan’s literary output was remarkable – thirty novels, over sixty non-fiction books, including biographies of Sir Walter Scott and Oliver Cromwell, and seven collections of short stories. In 1928 he won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary prize for his biography of the Marquis of Montrose. Buchan’s distinctive thrillers – ‘shockers’ as he called them – were characterised by suspenseful atmosphere, conspiracy theories and romantic heroes, notably Richard Hannay (based on the real-life military spy William Ironside) and Sir Edward Leithen. Buchan was a favourite writer of Alfred Hitchcock, whose screen adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps was phenomenally successful.

John Buchan served as Governor-General of Canada until his death in 1940, the year his autobiography Memory Hold-the-door was published. His last novel Sick Heart River was published posthumously in 1941.

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John Buchan
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Penguin Classics an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd

Publication date

24th June 2004




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