Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"The 39 Steps" by John Buchan

Chalk this up as another one where I've seen the movie but had no idea it started as a book. It's also one whose movie adaptation bears little resemblance to the original story. (Actually, it has several movie adaptations, but the one I've seen is Hitchcock's 1935 version.)

I found myself spending a day away from home with lots of waiting and I FORGOT MY BOOK. I can't stand doing nothing when I could be reading, so I had to feed my addiction and make a quick trip to Books-A-Million. It was a toss-up between looking for something that was already on my TBR and getting something cheap.

Cheap won. B-A-M has a set of Reject Carts out front with books selling (or not) for between $1 and $3. Though there's usually nothing good to be found there, I can't help but look every time. And this time I found a winner! It's a nice slim book--the perfect size to wedge between the others I was already reading but hadn't brought with me. I recognized the title and knew the story (or so I thought) so I was pretty sure the book wouldn't suck. I LOVE the cover. AND it only cost two dollars. I figured I couldn't go wrong.

I haven't read many spy novels, and those I have read were more contemporary, but this was a nice little old-fashioned adventure story. Know what it reminded me of? The Hardy Boys for grownups. (That was not intended as an insult, in case you thought it sounded like one.) Richard Hannay is Frank and Joe rolled into one, with keen skills of observation and a knack for ingenuity, finding himself in the most treacherous scrapes and always narrowly escaping through the use of his sharp intellect.

As the book starts, Hannay is finding life in London dreadfully dull. He's decided to give England one more day to get exciting; if it continues to disappoint him, he'll head back to South Africa where he'd already spent a number of years. Of course that very night the excitement begins. One of his neighbors turns out to be a spy who ends up staying with Hannay for a few days. He's hiding from the evil Germans who are chasing him because he knows about the plot to assassinate the Greek premier, Karolides, which is expected to precipitate a war. (I, in my limited knowledge of history, decided Karolides must have been the literary version of Archduke Ferdinand. The book was first published--and takes place--in 1915, when Franz's death of the previous year was still fresh news.) Needless to say, Hannay decides to stick around a while. He becomes embroiled in the chaos and loves every minute of it.

Differences between the book and the movie are legion. The one that surprised me the most was the absence of any character in the book remotely like Mr. Memory. This, of course, means that the "39 steps" of the title are something entirely different in the original story. The movie also spiced things up a bit by throwing in a couple of major female characters (but don't forget we're talking 1935 here, so it was more like paprika than habanero). I don't think I really had a preference between the two stories; it was actually nice to find they were different. The book was more suspenseful that way, since I was expecting one thing and getting another.

Did you know this was a book? Have you read it, or seen any of the movie adaptations?

6 comments:

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I knew that it was a book but I haven't read it - sounds really enjoyable though and I love the cover!

Brenna said...

Is it strange I haven't heard of the book or movie? It sounds interesting!

Avid Reader said...

I read this one a couple months ago. I hadn't heard of it before, but I'm going to see a play version of it this spring. It was a good adventure story. I thought it was hilarious that the main character was so bored that he was thrilled when his neighbor is killed in his flat in the beginning.

Kathy said...

Becky--it is a great cover, isn't it! I'm usually not a big fan of monochrome, but this one's got great style.

Brenna--it's not strange to me that you've not heard of The 39 Steps--I hadn't, until my friend Chris recommended the movie to me. So either it's not strange, or we're both strange. :)

AR--cool that you've read it too! Did you blog about it? I'd love to hear what the play is like. I read somewhere that the play's story is different from both the book and the movie(s).

Lesa said...

Never heard of it but I'm thrilled you found an emergency book! I always glance at the BAM sidewalk sale too.

Kathy said...

I was pretty thrilled, too, because it fit the bill so perfectly! I like that you called it an "emergency book." That's just what it was! I had a book emergency!!