Killer Nashville’s Book of the Day / Thursday, September 13, 2012 / “The Thirty-Nine Steps” by John Buchan / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915).

Why I chose this book:

Today’s Killer Nashville Book of the Day is one of those classics all thriller writers should be familiar with because, whether you know it or not, you have been influenced by it. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” was first published in 1915 and has had several incarnations in film and television, including a film in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock (which is considered the best film made from the book), while I consider a 1978 film by Don Sharp to be the closest to the book in terms of adaptation. Like many older classics, this book first appeared as a serial, in this case in Blackwood’s Magazine, which published stories that heavily influenced the later writings of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and the Bronte sisters. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is the first book in a series of five to feature character Richard Hannay. The novel is set in 1914. The first World War is about to begin and there is a German plot to murder the Greek Premier and steal Britain’s plans for the war. Hannay learns this from a spy named Scudder right before Scudder is murdered. Hannay now knows the secret that can get him killed, but also a secret that could have a drastic impact on all of Europe (note the high stakes). Unfortunately, Hannay is a suspect in the murder of Scudder so Hannay cannot simply go to the authorities for help. He becomes a fugitive, running from both the good guys and the bad while at the same time trying to prevent the looming doom. And, thus, the chase begins. The importance of this book (other than that it is a good book regardless) is that this book marked one of the earliest uses of the “fleeing hero” and “high stakes” devices that have been used many times since. Interestingly enough, Buchan – who published many successful books – considered himself an amateur writer. He was a politician by trade (1st Baron Tweedsmuir) and remained so all his life until he died in office in 1940. Writing was something that he did on the side for fun. Since the initial publication of “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” it has been a major influence on spy novels either directly or indirectly ever since its initial release.

From Amazon:

“Considered by many to be one of the greatest adventure novels of all time, “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is John Buchan’s most successful work. Set during the First World War, it is the story of Richard Hannay, an ordinary gentleman who finds himself mixed up in a plot to undermine the British war effort. A fugitive from the law, Hannay must race against time to try and stop the plot. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” is an exciting adventure of mystery and espionage that will thrill and delight readers both young and old.”

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join ourFacebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville


About Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker ( and founder of Killer Nashville ( As a writer himself, he has over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages. Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” ( and the music CD “XO” ( A champion of writers, Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” throughout “the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13)
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