The Thirty-Nine Steps


John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps [Edinburgh; 1915]

Father of the entire thriller genre, still compulsively readable at a century's remove. This was my second reading, and because I was reading it a chapter a night alongside three other books (all in different apps; I may be slightly compulsive), I had to force myself not to barrel onto the next chapter, Buchan's terse prose and knack for suspense is so addictive.

I'd forgotten most of the plot from the first reading, some fifteen years ago now, and more seriously I'd forgotten the casual antisemitism slipped into the background of the conspiracy the protagonist is uncovering: that it's then attributed to an American crank and drifts into ordinary wartime Germany vs. England rah-rah doesn't make it much better (any nationalism is particularly disgusting right now), but is just another reminder that pulp always draws from the cultural lies in circulation at a given moment.

The books I'm reading through are almost all literary canon rather than classic genre fiction -- and the 1910s inaugurated the era in which the division was starker than at any time before or since -- but The Thirty-Nine Steps is so ruthlessly effective at accomplishing its frankly preposterous mission that I don't feel too odd about including it.

November 4. 2017