INTRODUCING RICHARD HANNAY
BUCHAN, John. The Thirty-Nine Steps. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915.
Crown 8vo. Original blue cloth, titled in black on spine and upper cover; pp. 253, [i], [2, ads.]; the cloth quite bright, with a small red mark to upper board; the spine a touch sunned, as is common, with light pushing to head and foot; very light spotting to prelims and the outermost edges of the text block; otherwise a better than usual copy of a book that is extremely hard to find in nice condition.
First edition of this classic of spy fiction, first serialised in Blackwood's Magazine in August to September 1915 before being published in book form in October the same year.
The novel is the first to feature Richard Hannay in what would go on to be a series of five novels. The archetypal spy-thriller doubles as a man-on-the-run page-turner, with hook sentences: ""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." The result is a plot which is a cross between a Sherlock Holmes mystery and a 007-type adventure, and would become Buchan's best-known work, written at a time when the British public were both fascinated and terrified by the outbreak of the war and thus 'invasion fever'. Buchan reportedly concieved of the name of the novel from his daughter, who used to count the number of wooden steps down to the beach at a nursing home at Broadstairs, where Buchan was at the time convalescing from a stomach ulcer.
The Thirty-nine Steps was a great success with men fighting in the trenches. In a letter to the author, one soldier wrote: "The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing."