The Thirty-Nine Steps

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Author: John Buchan
Published: 1915
Language: English
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 86
LoC Category: PR
Series: Richard Hanney
Downloads: 28,542 1285

Hanney, an expatriated Scot, returns from a long stay in South Africa to his flat in London. One night he is buttonholed by an American who appears to know of an anarchist plot to destabilise Europe, and claims to be in fear for his life. Hannay lets the American hide in his flat, and returns later to find that another man has been found shot dead in the same building, apparently a suicide. Four days later Hannay finds the American stabbed to death...

Followed by Greenmantle, and Mr. Standfast.

Show Excerpt

this nervous little chap.

There was a tray of drinks on a table beside him, from which he filled himself a stiff whisky-and-soda. He drank it off in three gulps, and cracked the glass as he set it down.

'Pardon,' he said, 'I'm a bit rattled tonight. You see, I happen at this moment to be dead.'

I sat down in an armchair and lit my pipe.

'What does it feel like?' I asked. I was pretty certain that I had to deal with a madman.

A smile flickered over his drawn face. 'I'm not mad - yet. Say, Sir, I've been watching you, and I reckon you're a cool customer. I reckon, too, you're an honest man, and not afraid of playing a bold hand. I'm going to confide in you. I need help worse than any man ever needed it, and I want to know if I can count you in.'

'Get on with your yarn,' I said, 'and I'll tell you.'

He seemed to brace himself for a great effort, and then started on the queerest rigmarole. I didn't get hold of it at first, and I had to stop and ask him questions. But here is the gis


Average Rating of 4.3 from 8 reviews: *****

A fast-paced tale of espionage, subterfuge, and pursuit through England and Scotland. As well as being a good action story, the author has a nice touch for description. I enjoyed the detail with which he presents the beautiful Scottish remote regions in late spring.

David Matlock

A wonderfully written espionage/adventure novel. My taste usually runs to more serious fiction, but I read this as a thrilliing romp and couldn't put it down. Buchan does not try to be "literary" or cute, but he has wonderful landscape and characters, all presented with a light touch. He's a far better writer than at first appears, and not pretentious or precious in the least. I highly recommend for anyone who wants to have a fun escapist evening--and usually gets irritated by badly written popular fiction.


A good action-adventure story that held my interest, even though some events were rather far-fetched. I thought the ending was a bit anti-climactic.


I found this a brisker read than Leah. Richard Hannay is an Englishman who has made his pile in South Africa, and returned to England. He is very soon bored to tears and considering returning to South Africa, when he finds himself caught up in events that will culminate in WWI. He finds himself dashing across England, pursued by both the authorities who suspect him of murder, and the German agents whose plans he has stumbled upon.

There are two more Richard Hannay novels besides the ones available here - _The Three Hostages_ and _The Island of Sheep_ - available at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Leah A. Zeldes

A bored young colonial in London suddenly has adventure thrust upon him and winds up on the run from both the authorities and a gang of foreign spies. A little slow, but a decent read. The Alfred Hitchcock film based on this novel is considerably different, and better.

An earlier review mentions Robert Donat playing the lead role, but for some reason I kept seeing Cary Grant running around through the moors. Not heavy reading, but a good story, with fun characters - a step above "pulp" fiction.

Sidney Hobbs

Bit stoggy not unlike new bread, but you get into it and it races along - for me it pays to see the old English(1930-ish) which really establishes a reference point and lets you imagine the time that it was set in. Robert Donat plays the hero and makes a good fist of the part, but for those of you reading it from another era the film would really help.

Rob Pealing

The plot does not hang together very well and is far fetched. Despite this the story moves quickly and is fun to read.

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