I had a hard time choosing an adventure classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I thought this was an easy pick -- originally I was planning on reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I listened to an audio version and it moved so slowly that I finally gave up. I was searching for something in my library branch the other day and ran across The 39 Steps by John Buchan, and I remembered how much I'd enjoyed the BBC movie adaptation from a few years ago.
This is the story of Richard Hannay, a youngish man, probably in his thirties. Set in the spring of 1914, Richard has come to London after spending years in South Africa as a mining engineer. He's made some money and wants to enjoy himself but he's rather lonely and getting bored with London society. He craves excitement, and one day it literally bumps into him as a fellow tenant in his apartment, a man with whom he has a nodding acquaintance, accosts Richard as he's unlocking his flat and begs to come in and confide in him. The neighbor, a Mr. Scudder, has an amazing story -- he's a spy and is in possession of some very top-secret information about international intrigue in the Balkans. Also, he's just faked his own death to elude some very dangerous people who are trying to kill him. Scudder convinces Richard to hide him for a few days until he can make contact with important people and prevent an international incident.
Well, this is all fascinating for Richard until he comes home one day to find Scudder dead in his apartment. It all looks very bad, so he escapes with the clothes on his back, some cash and an encoded notebook that Scudder hid in a jar of tobacco. (Coincidentally, Richard finds this as he is refilling his tobacco pouch. Of course.). He makes his way north to Scotland while eluding the police and the bad guys while trying to decode the notebook and make everything right and clear his own name.
|The dishy Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay|
It was interesting to read a book published just at the start of the war. Buchan wrote several sequels about Richard Hannay but I'm not sure this was interesting enough for me to go searching for them. Has anyone else read this book? What did you think? What other adventure classics do you recommend? And does anyone else think Rupert Penry-Jones would make a good James Bond?