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Thirty-nine Steps - A book Review

March 11, 2008
Posted by mmarvs in : Books
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Title: Thirty-nine steps
Author: John Buchan
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Adapted Version: Level Advanced

39steps.jpgReview by Daniel Antuña jiménez

This is one of the best known spy stories based on the First World War and one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. John Buchan translates us to the first years of the past century, the turbulent days before the First World War, when you could find spies everywhere, sharing important documents for the government of an enemy army and making plans of conquest. There’s no man safe, even in their own apartments. The novel is fictional, but Buchan is so worried about the description of the countryside and the feelings of the main character, Richard Hannay, that you are feeling the entire book the action has really happened in the stormy days of 1915. In fact, due to its constant action and its suspense, Alfred Hitchcock immortalized the book in the film of 1935 with the same title, which is considered his first masterpiece.

Richard Hannay, a bored adventurer who has recently returned from Africa, meets a man at his apartment in London. He tells Hannay that there is a group of men working secretly to push Europe towards a war. Their plan consists of involving Russia and Germany in a war against each other. Unfortunately, the next day Hannay finds the man death in his London apartment so he decides to takes off for the cover of the Lothian and Borders countryside before the police and the murderers can get him. The police do not represent a real problem to Hannay, because they can provide him with a useful way of escaping in case he finds himself in a trap, but the killers are more resourceful than Hannay thinks. So, a great number of hair-breadth escapes and strange disguises laer, the truth begins to appear.

What can I say about a novel of spies? Simply fascinating and extremely recommendable. Curiously there’s no female character in the book, which is very typical in this type of novel, but this is not important for the story and the action, because I think that is not necessary a love story in this book, due to the constant persecution of Hannay and the fact that the story is not really a “noir” story, if not a spy story more closed to the “The fugitive” than “Notorious”, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock too.
To conclude, I must say that the book was freely adapted to the screen, unfortunately, so the film is completely different from the book. Anyway, its structure is very similar to the book, so the initial essence of the story is well reflected on the film, although it’s not very recommended to see the film before reading the book, because it has more suspense and action than the film, on which we can see a love story in the middle of the prosecution, that doesn’t bring us new useful information about the conspiracy of the killers.

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