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Most superficial discussion of Buchan the writer starts and stops with The Thirty-Nine Steps, and moves swiftly on to talk about the Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps note the different title. After its success he became a best-selling writer of thrillers and adventures for another twenty years, publishing 29 novels in total, as well as nine collections of essays and short stories, and nine biographies.
Buchan began writing The Thirty-Nine Steps in August while he or his daughter Alice: accounts vary was recovering from illness, and he was unable to join the army due to his age and ill-health. The book was published in the following September by the magazine Land and Water, and published as a novel by Blackwoods shortly after that.
The 39 Steps a flat-out farce
It was a rocketing success, and has never been out of print since. Three films were made of the germ of the storyand a fourth one is in preparation, so we hearand numerous BBC radio versions, but as far as I know no TV series have been made of the novel.
A six-part play drama essay TV series called Hannay was produced and broadcast by the British independent TV station Thames TV inusing the name and some of the background of the main character, Richard Hannay, but in a series of adventures which had nothing to do with the novel at all. In south-west Scotland Hannay is a stranger in a strange land being hunted by an unseen enemy, but in country very familiar to many of his readers.
Hannay and Leithen both spend frustrating amounts of time waiting for something to happen. They both share a dislike of working with the police unless absolutely necessary. These amateur detectives can handle the unmasking of international secret societies all by themselves.
Leithen showed the upper-class distaste of publicity which Hannay would later display in The Three Hostages. Perhaps, although the form is misleading, the core elements may still add up to detection.
Can Hannay be regarded as a detective? The start of the novel seems conventional now: in it would have been breathtakingly swift, presenting the reader very early on with a body and a clue hidden in the tobacco jar.
When the enemy closes in, and Hannay realises the threat of the police, the imperative to get away quickly, for self-preservation as well as to solve the mystery, makes the methodical and painstaking approach of a detective redundant.
There is no time for searching the apartment for clues to who killed Scudder. International politics take precedence over the domestically dead body in a living room, because the dead body is a spy. Hannay has spun a yarn straight out of Haggard about a chase across Africa to make the truth more believable to his credulous listener.
The Conan Doyle part was the truth. This may be helpful in indicating how Buchan regarded detective fiction, that it was inherently more believable, and more likely, than exotic adventure.
Hitchcock inverted this idea in his film, when Hannay tries to persuade the milkman with the truth, but is only believed when he spins a tale. The Literary Innkeeper longs for adventure and romance, but he only gets detection.
He is a new thing, a physically active thriller hero facing the challenge of intellectual exertion because he has been thrown into the role of a detective. Permission must be asked before using any material from this site, but no fee will be source.
The 39 Steps 1/2 (Radio Thriller) By John Buchan