book of books – The 39 Steps

The reason for choosing this book by John Buchan as a lunchtime read is because it is a slim volume that can be consumed easily in sections over lunch. The unforeseen problem is that it is so addictive that it is almost impossible to put it down and turn back to the screen to get on with your work.

Plot summary
The story focuses on Richard Hannay a mining engineer who has returned to London after an absence of some years and is on the brink of heading to South Africa to avoid the boredom when he comes across a strange man called Scudder. The stranger outlines a plan to destabilise Europe and bring on war by murdering the Greek leader and just as it seems like he might live to solve the mystery he is killed and Hannay, armed with Scudder’s black notebook, is left to solve the crime and stop the Germans from getting away with the secrets – something he manages to do.

Is it well written?
It is self consciously the style of a dime thriller and the pace of the book is amazing and there is not much detailed description around the central issue of Hannay surviving and being around to foil the Black Stone secret organisation. Even if you don’t like thrillers the feature to admire here is the pace, which never flags over the course of the book. There also has to be a mention of the plot because it is not always clear what will happen next and that is also a good reason for sticking with it.

Should it be read?
It is not only a real page turner before Dan Brown even discovered he wanted to write one, but also paints a picture of pre-war innocence in 1913 London that is almost tangible as the old boys network and the Empire are still in full swing. Read it for pleasure but don’t expect to be reading it for too long because this will keep you going until the very end.

Version read – Penguin Classics paperback

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