This month sees the centenary of the publication of one of my favourite novels, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1875-1940). That it is still readable today is testimony to the skill of the author, who was nothing if not prolific – he wrote over a hundred books in addition to a political career that culminated in his ennoblement as Lord Tweedsmuir and his appointment in 1935 as Governor General of Canada, where one of his achievements was the instigation of the Governor General’s Literary Awards.
The Thirty-Nine Steps was not only thrilling, it was highly topical for its time; it was set in the months prior to the outbreak of the First World War and dealt with an attempt by a German spy ring to steal Britain's war plans. It was a phenomenal success which in time spawned three films and a stage play, as well as setting the benchmark by which future spy novels would be judged. I have written an article on it which has been published by the New Statesman; it can be accessed via the following link: