Friday, April 19, 2013

The Evolution of the Mystery Genre

The Thirty-Nine Steps


                                         John Buchan

Thirty-Nine Steps, published in 1915,  is one of the earliest examples of the 'man-on-the-run' thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device. Also a forerunner of the James Bond spy who escapes every unbelievable attemp to twart his mission. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches.

Richard Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war when Hannay continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. The other two stories, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep were set in the post war period when Hannay's opponents were criminal gangs.

The Thirty-Nine Steps became a classic movie directed by Alfred Hichcock in 1939 and the novel was listed as #22 on the Top 100 Mysteries of A1l Time by the Mystery Writers of American.

John Buchan (August 26, 1875 – February 11, 1940)
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir was a Scotish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who served as Govenor General of Canada, the  15th since Canadian Confederation. After a brief legal career Buchan simultaneously began both his writing career and his political and diplomatic career, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in Southern Africa. He eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort in the First World War. Once he was back in civilian life Buchan was elected Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities, but he spent most of his time on his writing career, notably writing The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction. In 1935 he was appointed Governor General of Canada by George V, king of Canada, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of Canada Richard Bennett, to replace the Earl of Bessborough. He occupied the post until his death in 1940. Buchan proved to be enthusiastic about literacy, as well as the evolution of Canadian culture, and he received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom.


  1. PBS did a remake of this movie. It pricked my curiosity at the time, but I didn't follow up. thanks for the information.

    1. I watched the old Hitchcock version. It was kinda grainy, but I always enjoy a Hitchcock thriller. He was the masster.