Saturday, 12 May 2018
The grandfather of modern thrillers
Today's reading suggestion: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. Which I blogged about before, but that was before I had actually read it. Having finished it recently, I can now plug it. It is an early XXth century adventure novel and spy thriller, most famous now for being the source material of not one but two Alfred Hitchcock movies: The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, which is basically a modernized and Americanized version of the same plot. It is also the grandfather of many modern thrillers, good or bad. In it, expat Scot Richard Hannay comes back from South Africa on the eve of World War 1 to stumble upon a conspiracy lead by a German spy ring called the Black Stone. He is also framed for murder and must escape both justice and the spy ring while traveling across Britain. It's an old fashioned yarn, often awfully contrived, but it is nevertheless entertaining and it has a few great moments. Buchan is not a great writer, but he knows how to set up an atmosphere, whether it's in the Scottish countryside or in the middle of London. He write just as well as one would expect from a Tory MP or a future Governor General of Canada.