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Review

The Thirty-Nine Steps

14 October 2021
Written by: John Buchan
Review by: Library Patron
Genre: General Fiction

First published in 1915, this was a big success in its day but I would have to concede that Buchan is now out of fashion, for a number of reasons that are easy to understand – but there may be a revival – who knows?

A modern reader would be struck by the ‘cast’ of this performance;

- All the heroes are middle-class or minor aristocrats; part of what the Brits used to call their ‘officer class’.

  •  Women are almost invisible – at most, they are the wives of working-class men.
  •  The working class men are at best assistants to the heroes.
  •  The villains are (of course!) foreign.

The story is set just before WW1, when Britain had become nervous about challenges to its naval/imperial influence, and Buchan reflects the spy-mania that was abroad at the time.

But as a short thriller, it works very well, as the hero uses the skills he acquired in Africa to survive and evade his pursuers in rural lowland Scotland (modern critics place this action just inland from Shaun Bythell’s bookshop).

It will be interesting to see if Buchan enjoys a Brexit-based revival, as the themes in this book mesh well with the anti-EU narrative. So while this review may sound a bit PC , and while Buchan is not overly-popular in New Zealand, I am will to bet on a revival, and a return to ‘Classic’ status.

But this is not a book aimed at women.