I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, mainly because John Buchan was a local lad, having been brought up in Fife. His father was a Free Church of Scotland minister in Kirkcaldy.
The book was first published in 1915. Buchan had been ill and had run out of reading material so decided to entertain himself by writing the sort of book which he enjoyed reading.
His main character Richard Hannay finds himself on the run from the police and whoever had murdered his neighbour who had been hiding in Hannay’s London flat.
The murder victim had warned Hannay of an assassination plot which could bring the country to the brink of war.
Hannay makes for his native Scotland with both the police and the murderers hot on his tracks. Travelling all over the country he is helped by various inhabitants but still finds himself in sticky situations.
I enjoyed reading this classic adventure book and will read the sequel Greenmantle too. Good bedtime reading, I think.
The local legend is that Buchan named the book after the 39 steps leading down to the beach at the side of Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy. Here is a photo of the steps. (There are actually more than 40. We counted.)
But like every other coastal place there are plenty of steps to choose from leading down to various parts of the beach.
The book was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, but the film is completely different from the book. The most memorable part of the film doesn’t even appear in the book – when Hannay is scrabbling about on the Forth Bridge. But who could blame Hitchcock for changing things, the bridge is a gift for a thriller.
Hitchcock definitely improved the storyline thriller-wise as the Forth Bridge is such a wonderful iconic structure that it seems a huge gaffe on Buchan’s part not to include it in the book. The bridge also featured in the 1959 film starring Kenneth More. Maybe Buchan was just a bit blasé about the bridge – as you tend to be if something is in your own back yard.
I reviewed this book as part of the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge.