Richard Hannay, a former Scotsman, has been in South Africa for some time working as a mining engineer. Now returned to the UK and living in a small flat in London, he meets journalist Franklin Scudder, a stranger who, claiming to be afraid for his very life, spins him a tale of his discovery of a complex anarachist plot to de-stabilize Europe and plunge it into a multi-national war by assassinating the Greek premier during an upcoming visit to London. With some reservations, Hannay allows Scudder to hide in his flat.
A few days later, when Hannay finds Scudder murdered with a knife in his heart, he realizes the truth behind Scudder's story and takes to his heels. Scotland Yard will be after him as the only plausible suspect in Hannay's murder and Hannay also realizes that the anarchists will be after him next because they won't know what Scudder might have told him. With Scudder's pocket book in hand, the only thing that contains the clues to his research into the plot, Hannay takes a train north planning to take refuge in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. His only plan is to come out of hiding at the last minute before Karolides' visit in order to reveal the plot to the British government.
There is no doubt that "The Thirty-Nine Steps" is a staunchly British, well written, exciting and immensely entertaining adventure story that tells the tale of a man on the run in fear of his life. Richard Hannay is also depicted as a courageous patriot who selflessly puts his country's and his government's national interests and security ahead of his own. First published in 1915 with WW I already hotly under way, author John Buchan also took a tiny step into the political arena by obviously criticizing those government officials who had pursued a policy of pacification and negotiation with Germany before the war.
With a significant question in my mind as to what its long term literary values may be, I'll leave the question of whether or not a simple adventure story deserves to be elevated to the status of classic to others to decide. But I will say that its timeless entertainment value and feel-good ending will ensure that "The Thirty-Nine Steps" will be read by adventure, mystery and thriller lovers for years and years to come.