Book Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

One book that once was standard fare in secondary schools up to the late 20th Century was John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

And for good reason. There is something rather magnetising about a good old hide and seek novel, especially when you throw in a murder and the fate of the nation, for good measure.

Written in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps introduces the reader to the now famous character Richard Hannay, who features in array of popular Buchan books including Greenmantle and Mr Standfast.

Hannay finds himself home in London after years abroad in South Africa and before he knows it he is inadvertently harbouring a man on the run in his flat.

Within days the man is dead, knifed in the back and Hannah is on the run, innocent but in deadly peril. Pursued both by the police and by foreign spies, he makes his way to Scotland to lie low in the heather, until he can figure out what to do.

Buchan was a Scot and vividly paints the rugged lowlands in striking detail, in which Hannay’s pursuers find themselves outwitted and outfoxed time and again just as the reader expects the net to be closed around our hero.

The striking coincidences within the book add to the boyish charm of the novel, for indeed it is a book that will capture the imagination of boys and young men, still electrified with tales of heroism and adventure.

It is full of moments of high tension: flights across the hills, explosions, espionage; all edge of the seat reading. And the fast paced chapters will have readers page turning all the way to the dramatic conclusion.

This book was extremely popular when it was published and was one of the popular books that lent some escape to the lads in the trenches during World War 1.

Its popularity has waned in recent times, although it is rightly deemed a classic and is still readily available in print. It is a book that will capture the imagination of upper primary and secondary school students.

Best still it is clean, honest and is full of good old fashioned values in Richard Hannay. Teachers should have no qualms about using The Thirty-Nine Steps in Catholic classrooms.

Recommended for Grade 6 and up.

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