"The 39 Steps" by John Buchan

Note: Repost from the old blog. I’m not much for spy novels, but this is supposed to be one of the greatest ones ever written . I read it long ago and recommend it strongly. Thriller! This is supposedly one of the first spy novels ever written, and it’s long been a classic. Plot has more twists and mysterious turns than a mountain road. You never quite know what’s going on. Of course, that’s perfect for a Hitchcock movie, and Hitchcock adapted it in 1935, but I never saw the film. The author, John Buchan, was a fairly minor author, but this book was a smashing success, especially with Allied soldiers in the trenches. The Scottish author later left for Canada where he become a famous politician, where he changed his name to Lord Tweedsmuir. He’s one of those classic British colonial swashbuckling wild guys, running around the globe for the crown doing all sorts of crazy and important stuff. This is one of those books that was very successful and was repeatedly adopted as film, so most folks figure it’s shlock, but in my opinion, it’s actually great literature. Plot summary here. Watch out, it contains a spoiler. This book is creepy! It’s set in the UK on the eve of World War 1, and there are German and British spies and British cops running around everywhere. There’s a notebook written in code, a dead spy, an assassination plot to start the war, and British and German war plans that each one wants. Gives you shudders up and down your spine. It’s also a great book for paranoids, because the protagonist is always being followed by weird unknown characters everywhere he goes and he has to live by his wits like a criminal. He assaults strangers, forces them to change clothes and jobs with him and drive him places, to let him stay at their places. He never knows who anyone really is, and people who seem like good guys turn out to be bad guys and vice versa. Check it out. It’s a really short book and you can probably get it free or even read it online. I read it after a recommendation by none other than Thomas Pynchon, who listed it as an influence. It definitely still makes a lot of peoples’ best books list.

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