Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan

''(Thirty-nine steps)' was the phrase; and at its last time of use it ran — '(Thirty-nine steps, I counted them — high tide 10.17 p.m.)'.'


I started this the other day because, well, it's for the Kindle (think I got it for free, even), Scottish, short and a classic so I thought that was enough of a reason.

Surprisingly enough, the top ratings that popped up on Goodreads were all quite negative. I won't let that sway me from my opinion, though, because I quite enjoyed this little story. It follows Richard Hannay, who has recently returned to Great Britain from South Africa and is already dreadfully bored with London and life in general. This all ends when he meets a man who tells him of an assassination about to take place and how it needs to be stopped for the good of the world. When this gentleman is then killed in Hannay's quarters, which leads to him trying to prevent the crime by himself. He heads to Scotland and continues to run from his pursues.

It's a pioneer of many things; a spy and a man-on-the-run story in one. While it's not an amazing one (though at least it was less problematic than Casino Royale), it's an enjoyable read regardless, at least if you choose to only be in for the ride and not too bothered by the things that seem incredibly improbable and the such. It's also interesting because it was written in 1915 and set in 1914, so the political climate surrounding both is very tense. Like, there are German spies in London, and I suppose at the time that would have been a thing. Very interesting stuff. The French, however, are portrayed as helpful allies, which is very... queer for a British book. It almost felt ill-fitting, but I suppose a British author, and indeed the era, would know better than me.

One of my favourite things about this is the Scottish countryside it's very happy to explore. I mean, some of the places I could actually recognise, and the rest I could imagine quite easily. On this level, the book really felt like a love song to its setting. I also enjoyed all the people he came across, for they were very interesting and the scenes with new people were quite fun. Indeed, Hannay never travels too long on his own before something happens to offer a change of pace, so I never found myself bored with this book.

Like I said, many of the things that happen are very improbable, almost to James Bond levels. It's a thing I'd recommend you're on board for if you decide to read this — save yourself some annoyance. Additionally, the book is lacking that something that would, for me, raise it to a 5/5. It's not quite great, that's all. Maybe The Great Gatsby just spoiled me into thinking that even in under 200 pages, you should accomplish greatness.

I do understand those low Goodreads reviews as well; this book can be a little bit hit-and-miss, especially if you're expecting something else. Because of this, I have a few reservations about recommending it to just anyone. Personally, I'd rate this maybe a 3.5/5 rounded up. The lost half a star is because the ending was a bit anti-climatic but I don't feel it warrants a loss of a full star so I rounded it up. Just know that it's not a full 4/5.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 5: A book about travelling in the wild. This is because it has a lot of travelling in the Scottish Highlands and the such. Cool stuff. Pretty places.

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