John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" is the best known work of a prolific author who was also much more besides. This is a man who found time to write many works of fiction and non-fiction, while at the same time working as a lawyer, a businessman, and a politician. At the end of his life he had risen to become 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and he served as Governor General of Canada. "The Thirty-Nine Steps" has never been out of print since its first publication in 1915, and it is one of those books that is imprinted in the British collective consciousness. The three film versions, made in 1935, 1959 and 1978 (plus a TV version made in 2008) have ensured even non-readers of the book are aware of the story, though the films have between them muddied the popular recollection of a storyline that in the book never went near the Forth Rail Bridge, and whose titular steps were not in the Houses of Parliament.
"John Buchan and the Thirty-nine Steps: an Exploration" by John Burnett and Kate Mackay sets "The Thirty-Nine Steps", and to a lesser degree Buchan's other Hannay books and his wider writing, against the background of the world the author lived in at the time. The result is a fascinating exploration (the title is well chosen) of the themes and underlying complexities of an adventure novel which seems, on the surface, to be a fairly simple and straightforward yarn of a chase across, in particular, southern Scotland.
An introduction gives a short but effective biography of John Buchan up to the time he wrote "The Thirty-Nine Steps" in the summer of 1914. The main body of the book is divided into a series of chapters, each of which takes its theme from an extended quote from "The Thirty-Nine Steps", mainly in the order in which they appear in the original book. What this means in practice is that we are led through topics such as Buchan's and Hannay's feelings about London; Hannay's adventures in Galloway and the Borders, set against Buchan's own upbringing and his interest in fishing; the rural landscape of Upper Tweeddale and the role of shepherds; the significance of the main character being a Scot and the role of the motor car in 1914; and Buchan's (and Hannay's) experiences in South Africa; before looking at the theme of disguise which occurs frequently in Buchan's work, and the role of the sea. It doesn't matter how many times you have read "The Thirty-Nine Steps", this book will allow you to see it through fresh eyes and appreciate it even more deeply.