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Long before the outbreak of war, the English reading public had become gripped by invasion fever.

This was a volatile cocktail of jingoism and xenophobia inspired by the Anglo-German naval arms race and stoked by bestsellers such as The Great War in England in by William Le Queux and the infinitely greater classic The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. So far so fairly conventional. Buchan's contribution to this "dime novel" scenario was to create in his protagonist, Richard Hannay, an appealing antihero, both cool and brave, but also "pretty well disgusted with life" who, caught up in a high-octane international drama, has the resource, intelligence and daring to thwart a naked foreign attempt to drag Britain into war.

Hannay, who would feature in four more subsequent Buchan thrillers, is a mix of sleuth and action man, a cross between Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.


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His creator was obviously influenced by Conan Doyle No 26 in this series and would, in turn, later influence Graham Greene and Ian Fleming. Buchan's other great contribution to this genre, which also owes something to Kidnapped No 24 in this series was to refine the "man on the run" yarn into a page-turning adventure. He knew exactly what he was doing, describing a "romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the border of the possible".

The Thirty-Nine Steps - Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

None of this would have amounted to a hill of beans without Buchan's brisk characterisation, loving evocation of Scottish landscape and his switchblade prose. This is lethal, spare, clean and contemporary. When Hannay returns to his London flat after dinner in clubland, the reader can hardly escape the grip of Buchan's brilliant narration: "I snapped the switch, but there was nobody there.

Then I saw something in the far corner which made me drop my cigar and fall into a cold sweat. Softcover Stiff Boards.

THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS (Annotated)

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