My first job was to keep going for the next three weeks. It was now the 24th day of May, and that meant twenty days of hiding before I could venture to approach the powers that be. I reckoned that two sets of people would look for me – Scudder’s enemies to put me out of existence, and the police, who would want me for Scudder’s murder. It was going to be a giddy hunt, and it was queer how the prospect comforted me. I had been slack so long that almost any chance of activity was welcome. When I had to sit alone with that corpse and wait on Fortune I was no better than a crushed worm, but if my neck’s safety was to hang on my own wits I was prepared to be cheerful about it.
My next thought was whether Scudder had any papers about him to give me a better clue to the business. I drew back the table-cloth and searched his pockets, for I had no longer any shrinking for the body. The face was wonderfully calm for a man who had been struck down in a moment. There was nothing to the breast—pocket, and only a few loose coins and a cigar-holder in the waistcoat. The trousers held a little penknife and some silver, and the side pocket on his jacket contained an old crocodile-like cigar-case. There was no sign of the little black book in which I had seen him making notes. That had no doubt been taken by his murder.
But as I looked up from my task I saw that some drawers had been pulled out in the writing-table. Scudder would never have left them in that state, for he was the tidiest of mortals. Someone must have been searching for something – perhaps for the pocket-book.
This is not at all what I was expecting. I don’t know why, I thought this story was more of a noir-ish tale, dark and subtle.
This is everything but! The 39 Steps is an adventure/spy story that really would use some more realistic handling, but I found it delightful nonetheless.
Though a former fighter and traveller, Richard Hanney is quite the common man who gets involved in an international conspiracy in spite of himself. Although he knows very little of what it’s going on, he’s crafty and bold, which allows him to get out of the most terrible situations. Even a bit too easily sometimes. He seems to always come across the perfect people to help him, and nobody ever denies him help, if that can advance the story. Yes, it is a bit too convenient for me, but the story is fast-paced and goes from one problem to another with great speed. The reader’s attention is always engaged, and even when we realise the situation is beyond realistic, we still go with it.
I never truly understood the international/diplomatic problem, but I really enjoyed the execution.
It’s kind of weird. I usually don’t appreciate stories that are too easy and too complicated at the same time, but this one was fun. It was written just before WWI, and it certainly received some of the anxiety of that time (people certainly feared most of what is shown here). It also handles the story in a way that modern readers may found quite fantastical. But it has that particular kind of wonder that only pre-WWI stories seem to have, that quality that let the story take us away without too much questioning. Maybe this is why we enjoy them in spite of the questionable elements.
The 39 Step is in the public domain now, and we can find the text easily enough through the internet (I used the version offered by Serial Reader app). I actually partly read it, partly listened to it. You can find many different readings, even on YouTube. I settle on the one below because I love the reader’s Scottish blur.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies