Ripping Book Review – The Thirty-Nine Steps

WARNING: Ripping Book Reviews are solely the judgments of Professor VJ Duke on an unlucky book that has caused him much repulsion – in one way or another. Therefore, blame must be put on the professor and nobody else. With that in mind, read on – if you are brave enough to take it.


The Thirty-Nine Steps is supposedly John Buchan’s first spy thriller. Buchan describes his work as a ‘dime novel’ or a ‘shocker.’ Shocker is a good word for the work, though I’m almost positive that Mr. Buchan and I had remarkably different definitions in mind.

Buchan had this to say about the genesis of his book: “During an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those aides [i.e. ‘dime novels’ or ‘shockers’] to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for myself.”

Aides to cheerfulness? Hmm…Maybe the ones he had read, but certainly not the one he created. If only he had been too ill to write, we would have been spared his aide to cheerfulness.

Even though The Thirty-Nine Steps is considered a spy thriller, it just doesn’t measure up to what a spy thriller should be. You see, there’s nothing thrilling at all (or even remotely close to it) in all 88 pages of the book! There’s no crescendo, climax, or extreme interest anywhere. In fact, Buchan’s biography – located near the front – is the most interesting part of the book! And that says a lot.

Interestingly enough, Alfred Hitchcock used the premise of Buchan’s work for a 1935 film. Now it all begins to make sense. Now we begin to understand why and how the book became popular. What Hitchcock saw in the story, is a mystery to me.

Anyway, though, if you would like to take a nap on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and you are having trouble falling asleep, pull out a copy of The Thirty-Nine Steps and begin reading; you’ll fall asleep before you get through the first page.


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