The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
In The Thirty-Nine Steps, a freelance spy is murdered in Richard Hannay’s London flat. Hannay grabs some cash and a disguise and goes on the run. Fearing for his life, Hannay’s goal is to stay one step ahead of both the police and the spies who will stop at nothing to find him.
What are the thirty-nine steps, and can Richard Hannay manage to stay one step ahead of his pursuers?
Published in 1915, The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the most popular espionage thrillers ever written.
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Transcript: The Thirty-Nine Steps
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:43
and join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
We’re very excited about today’s episode, where we will be talking about The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. And today we have an amazing special guest, Wendi Anderson. But before we dive too deep, we want to make sure we mention today’s sponsor, Grace Sigma. They are a boutique process engineering consultancy run by our own Sarah Harrison. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries as finance, telecom and government. Grace Sigma uses lean methods to assist in data dashboarding, storytelling, training process visualization, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled, Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more at gracesigma.com. They are amazing. I highly recommend them.
Sarah Harrison 1:43
Carolyn Daughters 1:59
We also have a listener award today. The award goes to Judith Clare from Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.
Sarah Harrison 2:11
Well, how appropriate is that? And cool.
Carolyn Daughters 2:15
I know, right? So thank you, Judith, for being an amazing person and a member of the Tea, Tonic, & Toxin book club. We really appreciate you. And to show our appreciation, we’re going to send you a very cool sticker.
Sarah Harrison 2:31
It’s a beautiful sticker. And we hope you’ll agree.
Carolyn Daughters 2:35
If you’d like your own on-air shout out and one of these awesome stickers, all you have to do is weigh in on the books we’re reading on the comment forms on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Or you can post a comment on our Facebook page and Instagram page. Our handle is @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 2:52
Or you can rate us or you could like share some posts and stuff. Like give us five stars. I mean, if you’re not gonna do that, don’t bother, please.
Carolyn Daughters 3:16
Only five stars. That’s all we’ll accept.
Sarah Harrison 3:21
We’re not out here offending you. You don’t need to give us any other kind of rating.
Carolyn Daughters 3:26
On that happy note. Can you tell us more about The Thirty-Nine Steps?
Sarah Harrison 3:33
I would love to. The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure spy novel by John Buchan. The action-packed story begins in May 1914. Richard Hannay is a Scotsman who lived in Rhodesia and has since moved to London. One day he finds a man named Franklin Scudder at his door. Scudder is a freelance spy who has secret information about an assassination plot that could lead to a world war.
Days later, Hannay finds Scudder murdered in his flat. Fearing for his life, Hannay goes on the run, hiding out in Scotland. His goal is to stay one step ahead of both the police and the spies who will stop at nothing to find him.
After breaking a cryptic code, Hannay learns that German spies called the Black Stone plan to steal British military intelligence. He confides in an innkeeper, who then sends a letter to his godfather, Sir Walter Bullivant, the secretary of the Foreign Office. Still on the run, Hannay ends up at a remote Scottish mansion owned by an old man who turns out to be part of Black Stone. The old man locks Hannay in a storeroom, but Hannay escapes by setting off a homemade bomb.
From there, Hannay heads back to London and meets up with Sir Walter Bullivant. Hannay, Bullivant, and British officials discuss the sinister German plot and try to figure out where the Black Stone will leave England. Hannay recalls a cryptic note describing the thirty-nine steps. Hannay identifies the departure point in Kent and scopes out the area. He accuses three men of being Black Stone spies and they’re arrested. Weeks later, the UK goes to war, its secret naval defense plans intact.
Today, we’re excited to talk about The Thirty-Nine Steps, one of the most popular espionage thrillers ever written since it was published in 1915. It has inspired countless books, along with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation. It’s our third book selection of 2023. You can find all our 2023 book selections on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Today, we do have our second guest. We love guests.
Carolyn Daughters 6:19
Today’s guest is Wendi Anderson. That’s Wendi with an “i.”
Sarah Harrison 6:23
Yeah, think it right.
Carolyn Daughters 6:27
Wendi is a senior business analyst and an avid outdoor enthusiast. She loves mountain biking, hiking, and paddle-boarding. In fact, one of her favorite activities is jogging up Green Mountain, elevation 6,800 feet, which is just steps outside her home in lovely Golden, Colorado. When she’s not exploring the great outdoors, watching horror movies, or reading Stephen King novels, he’s hanging at home with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.
Sarah Harrison 6:55
Welcome, Wendi! We’re so glad you came.
Wendi Anderson 7:00
Sarah Harrison 7:01
I didn’t realize Green Mountain was outside your door. How scenic.
Wendi Anderson 7:05
Yes, it’s very nice. A mini playground right next to us.
Carolyn Daughters 7:10
You can always find time to go up Green Mountain.
Wendi Anderson 7:14
It’s hard to find an excuse not to, that’s true.
Sarah Harrison 7:20
Do you read like lots and lots of Stephen King? Was The Thirty-Nine Steps really outside of your genre?
Wendi Anderson 7:25
This was outside of my genre, yes. I really enjoy Stephen King, horror, and true crime. But I also love a good mystery, a good whodunit. I love any story about a murder. So, yes, and no, I guess.
Sarah Harrison 7:47
So, we’re fictional crime. But that’s cool. Well, we’re excited to have you.
Wendi Anderson 7:54
Carolyn Daughters 7:57
The Thirty-Nine Steps … what did you guys think? How was the read for you?
Wendi Anderson 8:07
Well, I personally really enjoyed The Thirty-Nine Steps. It is one of the older books I’ve read. I typically don’t read books that date back to the early 1900s. But I found it interesting. I think on your website, you referred to it as a cross between Poker Face and The Bourne Identity. And so I thought, Oh, this is going to be fun because I’ve watched Poker Face and I’ve, of course, watched The Bourne Identity. But the more I read it, I thought of the series You, which I am currently watching and a huge fan of. It’s about a serial murderer, which I also just love.
Sarah Harrison 9:03
Wendi Anderson 9:08
The series, the beginning of season four, I should say, begins with the main character waking up to a man murdered, laying on his table with a knife sticking out of him. So I thought, oh, wow, very similar to The Thirty-Nine Steps. But I also think thought a lot of James Bond as I was reading through this. It really is very much a James Bond novel, only without the sex and the fancy cars and fancy suits.
Sarah Harrison 9:47
They had some fancy cars, but I guess like some pretty ratty looking suits is what he was going for in The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Carolyn Daughters 9:57
He didn’t seem himself super fancy. He didn’t seem like a James Bond kind of guy. In fact, he positions himself as normal, ordinary everyday guy. To a fault.
Sarah Harrison 10:10
I have some questions about that. Well, that’s cool. So horror and true crime … How do you sleep at night?
Carolyn Daughters 10:26
That’s what she watches before she goes to sleep.
Sarah Harrison 10:31
I couldn’t handle that stuff, but Nate can. You guys should hang out and watch movies together.
Wendi Anderson 10:36
I would love to. It’s very rare that I can find someone who will watch a good horror movie with me.
Sarah Harrison 10:41
Nate’s the same. Nate, are you listening right now? Call Wendi. I can’t do it. So I’m a big disappointment in that category.
Wendi Anderson 10:50
Let’s go to a movie, Nate. The only other two people I know are my sister and her daughter. They’re both big horror fans. So it must have been a genetic thing. Or our upbringing.
Carolyn Daughters 11:12
Sarah, what did you think of The Thirty-Nine Steps?
Sarah Harrison 11:16
It was a lot of fun. You had referred to it as a page turner, and I would totally agree with that. As we’ve gone along, all through the last year, sometimes I wasn’t always sure. Like, why is this book on the list? What’s it adding to it? And then, when we did Trent’s Last Case last month, I really felt a shift in the book and how it was written. It felt much more modern. Like, Oh, here’s the main character, and we’re actually following along with them. And learning things as they do. So this kinda was another one that, even though it’s old, it had that modern page-turny field to it. And it was short, it was a lot of fun. So I liked it. What did you think, Carolyn?
Carolyn Daughters 11:59
The Thirty-Nine Steps felt Bourne Identity-like to me. Not as complex as the Bourne Identity, which is a series that I love. As a teenager and young adult, I read the Bourne Identity. I love the movies. I love the Tom Clancys. I love the Robert Ludlums. I’ve always enjoyed those books. I like a good spy thriller. So this was fun for me, in part, I think, because he’s always on the run. He’s on a train. He’s running through the hills, and he’s going through Scotland, which is beautiful. The wanderlust in me is saying like, this sounds amazing. I want I also want to run from spies and the police and have my life threatened as I run through Scotland.Not really, of course, but you get to suspend belief for a while and just be in the role of this guy, Richard Hannay, who’s running for his life?
Sarah Harrison 13:11
Honestly, I did think it was possibly published by the Scottish board of tourism. He went into such descriptions of the Scottish countryside down to all the flora and fauna in extremely British ways where I was looking up every other word. Like, where is he? Is that a hill or a valley?
Carolyn Daughters 13:34
The author was Scottish. And the author grew up in Scotland and then went to Oxford, and then went to South Africa. And he was the administrator, I think, for the Transvaal down in the south part of Africa. So he draws from all of these experiences in this book. And then right before the war, I think, or during World War I, he worked for the propaganda department in the UK. The year is … what year is it? 1914?
If you’re thinking you’re if you’re screaming at the podcast right now, the year The Thirty-Nine Steps was published and wondering how we don’t have it in front of us. Kudos to you.
Sarah Harrison 14:04
Is the year in your summary?
Carolyn Daughters 15:16
No. You would think it would be. It’s 1915.
Sarah Harrison 15:23
So he wrote it to take place one year prior.
Carolyn Daughters 15:28
The war hasn’t started in The Thirty-Nine Steps yet. You can get that whole sense of nationalism and anti-German sentiment. Readers, that one sentence took us about two solid minutes to get out while we did research live.
Sarah Harrison 15:48
That’s funny. I feel like the Germans are still often fictional villains in whatever crime and war scene we want to create. This is the first time I’ve seen that. So it’s the Germans, they spoke German.
Carolyn Daughters 16:11
I really enjoyed it. It’s short. My copy is 113 pages in a normal font. I read it in probably three hours. It was really fast.
Sarah Harrison 16:26
Mine’s 138 pages, but it looks tiny. Very small.
Wendi Anderson 16:30
Wow, mine’s 80 pages. We all have very different versions.
Sarah Harrison 16:34
But it’s short, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 16:41
It’s short. It’s fun. Because it was published, as we now know, in 1915, you get to see the origin of a lot of the spy thrillers that we’ve become familiar with and that we love today.
Sarah Harrison 16:55
Yeah, very much. It was cool. Read The Thirty-Nine Steps. If you haven’t yet. Maybe pause this because we’re gonna spoil everything.
Carolyn Daughters 17:03
No! Listen, then read afterward. It’s all good.
Sarah Harrison 17:08
No, a mystery, you want to read it first.
Carolyn Daughters 17:11
The fun thing, Sarah, is that listening to our podcast is like reading the book.
Sarah Harrison 17:15
It’s just like it.
Carolyn Daughters 17:17
You get credit for reading the book by listening to the podcast.
Sarah Harrison 17:20
We will give you credit, by the way.
Carolyn Daughters 17:23
All you have to do is reach out and let us know you listened to the podcast.
Sarah Harrison 17:26
You get credit and a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 17:30
Let’s talk a little bit about war. Oh, look, I even have a note here about the year. I really have all the information at my fingertips and I’m ignoring it. Live. The Thirty-Nine Steps starts in May 1914. And in the book’s dedication, John Buchan says he “has long cherished an affection for that elementary type of tale which Americans call the dime novel and which we know is the shocker.”
Sarah Harrison 18:09
The “shocker.” I like that. We should start calling them “shockers.”
Carolyn Daughters 18:12
“The romance where the incidents defy the probabilities and march just outside the borders of the possible.” He also says, “These days the wildest fictions are so much less improbable than the facts.” So the fact that they’re coming into a world war is so shocking that there’s no fiction you can write that is going to be more disturbing than what’s actually happening. Did you get that sense that they’re on the verge of war? How did you guys feel when you were reading it? Did you get like a historical sense of a place in time?
Sarah Harrison 18:52
I didn’t. And that’s probably my own fault. I am very terrible with dates and timelines. It’s a major flaw of mine. And so for me, it was a very vague feeling of espionage, not a specific one. How about you guys?
Wendi Anderson 19:12
I will echo Sarah, I’m horrible with dates, and timelines. But I’m also horrible with history, I’ll be honest. So I didn’t realize, quite frankly, that they were on the brink of war until much further in The Thirty-Nine Steps. And then it dawned on me. Because I couldn’t put the beginning into context because I wasn’t sure at what point in time the book was beginning.
Carolyn Daughters 19:47
That’s fair. One of my challenges with The Thirty-Nine Steps is how vague the spy thriller element was. Who are they fighting? Why are they fighting them? What happens if they don’t win?
Sarah Harrison 20:12
Okay, good. That makes me feel better because I was at times I was like, I don’t think I’m following this.
Carolyn Daughters 20:19
I reread a lot of stuff. And I was like, I’m going to figure this out. So The Bourne Identity is four or six times larger than this book. It’s a big book. If you’re into that kind of thing, which I am, it’s a fun read. And it’s still a page turner, and it is heavy, and it’s big, and it takes a while to get through it. In The Bourne Identity, he spends a lot of time getting into the details of the plot and who this guy is and who he could be and who the bad guys are and who they could be and what people are doing and why.
In The Thirty-Nine Steps, we get this general sense that there’s this Greek premier Karolides. He’s the only barrier between Europe and Armageddon. On June 15, anarchists plan to kill him in London. Beyond that we don’t know anything about this Greek premier. We don’t know why he’s the last barrier between Europe and Armageddon. We don’t know what actually happens if the assassination occurs. What happens? Well, they still go to war, right? We know World War I happens. And at the end of The Thirty-Nine Steps, we know that Hannay goes off to war. So it’s very hard to put your finger on the stakes, the degree or level of the stakes.
Sarah Harrison 22:04
Now you’ve enlightened me that this is about the start of World War I, which just blew past my head when I was reading it. I just thought, like a Bourne Identity, I was thinking, Oh, this is just some imaginary made up espionage thing. I wasn’t thinking in a historical framework. So for his readers, it’s 1915, actually. They are living the context. They don’t need you to build up the context. They’re already living it. That adds a really interesting perspective, like, Oh, my goodness. When there’s a historical moment, and someone gets a book published so fast. They really capitalized on that. Good job. Well, John Buchan just made The Thirty-Nine Steps, a war book, right after World War I started. It’s about the war. So probably made it pretty popular.
Carolyn Daughters 22:55
Imagine it’s July 2020, and someone knocks out a novel on the pandemic, and people are like, right on. Timely.
Sarah Harrison 23:04
Exactly, which I’m sure they did.
Carolyn Daughters 23:06
But the thing is nobody wanted to read that pandemic book.
Sarah Harrison 23:10
No, not back in 2020.
Carolyn Daughters 23:13
I don’t want to read your pandemic book. I’m living your pandemic book. I would argue that John Buchan has an adventure element to The Thirty-Nine Steps, this man on the run, and that there’s a propaganda element to it, which was part of his job during the war.
Sarah Harrison 23:29
It’s very “go British countrymen.” There’s a “good guys we can rely on” characterization throughout The Thirty-Nine Steps, which I found charming. But now that I have the historical context, I’m like, oh, okay, there’s another level to it.
So what happens in the book, listeners, is this guy Franklin Scudder wants to stop the assassination of this Greek premier. There’s this organization called Black Stone run by a dangerous old man, and there’s a woman named Julia. Czechenyi.
Carolyn Daughters 24:13
Richard Hannay comes home one day, and he sees this guy Franklin Scudder stabbed through the heart in his apartment. And the evidence is enough to hang him. He’s afraid of getting caught by the police. He’s also afraid of getting caught by the spies because that story, Franklin Scudder tells him might have some truth to it. So Hannay takes about 50 pounds.
Hannay goes on the run. His goal is to stay hidden until the second week of June and then tell the government people about the conspiracy. It’s really hard to put your finger on the details of what actually is happening here and what the stakes are. At the very start of The Thirty-Nine Steps, we get to start following him on his journey. Let’s talk a little bit about Richard Hannay as a protagonist, as the the guy we’re following on this journey. Wendi, what did you think of Richard Hannay?
Wendi Anderson 25:40
I thought he was pretty much invincible. So this guy was either super lucky, or he had the most amazing demeanor, where people just wanted to fall at his feet and help him. And I think there might be an element to his honesty, and the way he portrayed who he was, that encouraged people to do so. But physically, he must have been an ox because he survived a whole heck of a lot of things. Including being freezing at night, and lacking food and water. He just kept right on going like the Energizer Bunny. He was kind of a James Bond to me as well.
Carolyn Daughters 26:34
Yeah, always bounces back. An inspiration, Wendi, would you say?
Wendi Anderson 26:39
I would say so. He’s a heck of an inspiration. At the beginning, I was thinking, Who is this guy? I want to be bored in London with plenty of money. I would be really happy with that.
Carolyn Daughters 26:52
I want to get to that in just a second. Sarah, tell me about what you thought about Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Sarah Harrison 26:59
Oh, he was a funny one. He was constantly being, like, I’m just an ordinary bloke. And then he’d be like, so I did the old trick where you throw the knife up and you catch it in your mouth. And I’m like, well, that doesn’t sound so ordinary. I have eyes like a kite, and I can see what other people need a telescope to see. And I was like, well it sounds like you have a skill set. You have a lot of unusual things that you do.
What struck me the most, and I made a lot of notes about this, was how preoccupied he was with the next thing he was going to be eating. He would always be describing it in detail, and I couldn’t ever land on whether it was realistic or not realistic given the situation? Would I just forget about what I was going to be eating because I’m about to die? Or would I really just be dreaming about the porterhouse steak I had at the club? I think it was realistic for me.
Carolyn Daughters 27:57
You made a list of food.
Wendi Anderson 28:06
Are you a foodie, Sarah?
Sarah Harrison 28:09
I like food, and so does Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He did a lot of food talking and dreaming. When the super-evil old German captured Hannay in his own house, as Hannay was captured, he’s like, “The old gentleman could scarcely refuse me a meal, and I fell to reconstructing my breakfast.” And I was like, how do you know I wouldn’t deny you a breakfast? Certainly he could deny you a breakfast of all things.
Carolyn Daughters 28:39
Sarah, can you summarize some of the food?
Sarah Harrison 28:43
Yes, I made a little foodie list. Ham and eggs and scone, scone and cheese, cold ham and cutlets, porterhouse steak, Welsh rabbit.
Carolyn Daughters 29:02
Was it Welsh rarebit?
Sarah Harrison 29:04
Welsh rabbit. And I want to know what’s so Welsh about it? How is a Welsh rabbit different from another? As a lover of eating rabbit, that’s what I want to know. Ginger biscuits, bacon and eggs, cold pie and glass of beer. What kind of cold pie? What kind of cold pie?
Carolyn Daughters 29:23
I think he drinks Bass.
Sarah Harrison 29:24
In this instance. It was just a glass of beer. After a while, folks, I started making these lists, and then I was like, Carolyn’s gonna kill me. I’m taking up all this space with weird lists. Bowl of milk with dash of whiskey, oatcake and cheese. He drank the milk out of a bowl. That was interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 29:49
Have you have you tried the milk and whiskey?
Sarah Harrison 29:50
I have not.
Carolyn Daughters 29:52
Sarah does like to try to make the beverages mentioned.
Sarah Harrison 29:55
I tried the milk and soda from Trent’s Last Case. I gave it to my kids. They were big fans. I mean, it was good. It was like milk and soda together. But for my kids were like, “Give me more of that milk and soda.” They don’t get a lot of treats, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 30:17
I’m gonna be honest with you. It doesn’t sound like a treat to me.
Sarah Harrison 30:20
It’s just like a light bubbly milk is all it is. It’s certainly not bad. And if you want a glass of milk, maybe you want to light bubbly milk. I thought it was fun. So I started listing out all these foods, and I do like the foods in Scotland, I will say. So it’s bringing me back a little bit to when I’ve been there and have the full Scotch breakfast of the eggs and the sausage and the haggis and the blood pudding and the white pudding and the cooked tomatoes and the cooked mushrooms and the marmite on toast and all that stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 31:00
You enjoy all this?
Sarah Harrison 31:02
It’s all one breakfast, too. They put all of that in a full Scotch breakfast. All of it.
Wendi Anderson 31:07
And you mentioned you’re a rabbit lover.
Sarah Harrison 31:10
It was delicious.
Wendi Anderson 31:11
So you had that there as well.
Sarah Harrison 31:14
Rabbit has kind of gone out of fashion. And I’m trying to bring it back. That’s my plan. When I was there, I didn’t see any rabbit, although we did stop at this like roadside — it’s not fast food, it’s almost like a Chipotle. It was instead full of venison sausage and other cool, Scottish, gamey things. And I was like, Yes, I love it here.
Carolyn Daughters 31:47
I might have skipped the breakfast that you love.
Sarah Harrison 31:50
Oh, man,. every single day, every single day, I’m like, finally, I’m in a breakfast country. Go to Italy, and you can’t even find a breakfast. You can just find half of a biscotti and a cappuccino or an espresso.
Carolyn Daughters 32:03
I like pain au chocolat, chocolate croissant. I like my coffee. Sometimes I like a breakfast burrito. But I do not like most of the things you listed.
Sarah Harrison 32:17
Oh yeah I’m a massive “give me a plate of eggs and meat” breakfast. So I was right there with Richard Hannay in terms of like, ham and eggs, yeah. Cheese, more ham cutlets, Porterhouse, rabbit. Yes, pile that on.
Carolyn Daughters 32:30
About Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps, you also wrote, “nothing all day but railway sandwiches.”
Sarah Harrison 32:44
He is so spoiled! He got by Sir Harry’s godfather treats him to a meal. And it’s like, I’ve never eaten a meal with more relish. All I’d had all day is railway sandwiches. I’m like, wait, you’ve had multiple sandwiches. You’ve had multiple sandwiches throughout the day. And you’re like, thank goodness I can really dig in and start this. Okay, dude.
Carolyn Daughters 33:19
And then champagne, port, and coffee.
Sarah Harrison 33:22
Yeah, that was after that dinner. They had had great champagne, fine poured coffee, then cigars? I don’t know. I’m just kind of fascinated.
Carolyn Daughters 33:29
I’m on board. Maybe not the cigars. I’m not a cigar person. But champagne, port, and coffee.
Sarah Harrison 33:35
All those four things is what they had, like, as part of the whole the whole eating traditions of these time periods. It’s just fascinating to me. The women will go in here and they’ll do this, and the men will go in here and they’ll do that.
Carolyn Daughters 33:51
Oh, after dinner.
Sarah Harrison 33:52
During dinner, after dinner. I think the port, coffee, and cigars was after dinner and champagne was during.
Carolyn Daughters 34:00
In an upper-class British house, the men and women often would part ways after dinner. One group would go in the study or the library and they would have their port, and the the women would go off into another room and I don’t know what they would do.
Sarah Harrison 34:21
A lot of tea times, it’s like tea with Sherry. But I remember in Trent’s Last Case when we heard that they were talking about the millionaire guy who killed himself.
Carolyn Daughters 34:35
Sarah Harrison 34:35
So we’ll just will spoil other books too. We’re gonna spoil books of the past as well so you better listen in order. Sigsbee Manderson killed himself.
Carolyn Daughters 34:45
You don’t have to listen in order.
Sarah Harrison 34:51
If you don’t want spoilers, though. I’m just throwing that out there.
Carolyn Daughters 34:53
Because Sarah cannot help herself.
Sarah Harrison 34:56
Well, it’s relevant. In Trent’s Last Case, E. C. Bentley refers to Sigsbee Manderson as not much of a drinker. He just drank at lunch, dinner, and after dinner every single day. And I was like, Whoa, times change. I would never say that.
Carolyn Daughters 35:16
That’s like watching an episode of Mad Men where they would start at lunch, and then they’d work all the way through to happy hour and then continue at dinner, and then have after dinner drinks. And it’s like Monday night.
Sarah Harrison 35:28
You’re not drinking very much today. We’ve only had all of these drinks.
Carolyn Daughters 35:32
Wow, really pacing yourself today.
Sarah Harrison 35:37
I got a little sidetracked probably by all the food writing. You asked what I thought about Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps. That’s what I thought about.
Carolyn Daughters 35:46
Wendi, I want to hear what you think. Interestingly, until Sarah mentioned the food, I didn’t even think about the food.
Sarah Harrison 35:53
All Richard Hannay talks about in every situation is like, but what’s for breakfast?
Carolyn Daughters 35:59
Wendi, did you see all the food references?
Wendi Anderson 36:02
Yes, I noticed he talked about food quite a bit. And he was extremely descriptive about food, what food he was thinking of, what food he had eaten. And of course, the reference to, “I can’t believe that I was bored with the food in England. I really took it for granted.” I noticed he was very descriptive about the thought and the consumption of food.
Sarah Harrison 36:35
What do you like for breakfast, Wendi?
Wendi Anderson 36:36
I actually love to eat a big bowl of overnight oats with chia seeds, blueberries, and walnuts.
Sarah Harrison 36:44
Stay out of Scotland. Do not go there. You will not get it.
Wendi Anderson 36:49
Noted. I like some eggs every once in a while as well.
Carolyn Daughters 36:54
I mean, Sarah, the breakfast you described did sound a little bit like a cardiac arrest.
Sarah Harrison 36:58
It’s delicious. I can go til tea time, because that’s the thing there. So I don’t have to eat lunch. I just go till tea time. Then, actually, since I’m gluten free, I don’t get any scones. It’s good, though. Nate would always get a scone and tea. And I’d be like, give me the plate of oysters. Scotland has great oysters. So I do that.
Wendi Anderson 37:24
With a gluten allergy, you probably aren’t happy in Italy.
Sarah Harrison 37:28
No, it’s very difficult there. I eat a lot of like caprese salads and that sort of thing.
Carolyn Daughters 37:42
In The Thirty-Nine Steps, one thing that I thought was so interesting is Richard Hannay’s boredom. He’s in Rhodesia. He comes from Rhodesia to London, lives in this flat, seems to have enough money to do just fine. He can go to fun, swanky bars and restaurants. And he’s just bored. He’s like, Oh, I was just so envious of all the clerks and the police officers and all of these shop girls who all have something to do. I’m thinking to myself, dude, if you want a job, just go get the job. He’s like, I’m just so bored. And then this adventure falls into his lap.
Sarah Harrison 38:37
I did think it was annoying. But also, I’ve never been in that situation. And in his defense, he did have a job. He was a mining engineer in Rhodesia. And that is exciting work. So he’s used to the open country, interesting people, being physical with his hands in the earth and stuff. I guess, he was doing what people told him he should do, which is go back to the old country. Though he wasn’t really there before, and it was it was the new country for him. Go to the old country. See your roots. And he was just like, man, different lifestyle. It does feel a little bit spoiled, I’ve only eaten railway sandwiches all day. But it sounds like he did lead a pretty exciting life before he did that.
Carolyn Daughters 39:43
Let’s talk about what launches The Thirty-Nine Steps. Richard Hannay meets this guy Franklin Scudder, who knocks on his door and tells him a crazy story about this Greek premier Karolides. Hannay decides he’s so bored he’s going to let this guy stay with me. Hannay doesn’t know whether the story is true or not. He wakes up one day and finds Franklin Scudder has been murdered in his flat.
Sarah Harrison 40:22
Actually, the imagery that Wendi brought up. He has the knife, pinning him to the floor. What was that you said, Wendi, You iss the series where the guy got knifed?
Wendi Anderson 40:33
Yeah, the main character wakes up, and there’s a man laying splayed on his table with a knife in his chest.
Sarah Harrison 40:41
I think Scudder was on the floor. But, yeah, it just sounded like the same imagery. Totally.
Carolyn Daughters 40:46
And so everything is going to change. We’ve talked in this podcast a little bit about the stable context of the story. You get the day in day out, this is what my life is. Then something happens, and that’s why the story is being told. And so we get Hannay’s day in, day out. This guy is murdered. He has this knife through his chest.
And then we learn a little bit about Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He’s not just bored. He didn’t just come from Rhodesia. He’s not just living in this London flat. We learn something about the man because he says, “I am an ordinary sort of fellow., not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed. And that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play the game in his place.” So I’m going to argue something, and then Sarah is going to have a different opinion, which I love.
Sarah Harrison 41:38
Am I? I don’t even know yet.
Carolyn Daughters 41:41
I know because I’ve read your comments. And Wendi is going to be the arbiter of this one. So this is his moral code, right? Richard Hannay took Franklin Scudder into his home. Hannay says, yes, you can live here. Yes, I’ll protect you. The guy dies. And Hannay says, “I’m not gonna let this stand. I’m going to play the game in his place.” That’s pretty brave. And unselfish. And, Sarah, you mentioned something different.
Sarah Harrison 42:26
That was interesting. There’s a couple of things. Wendi, arbiter of all discussions about moral code. First of all, what else was he gonna do? He’s gonna get killed. He had to get out of there, and he had to lay low, and the only people who could protect him were the government. So I’m not saying that he wasn’t brave, because I think he was. And I think everyone appreciates an underdog and Scudder was killed unjustly. But also, along with that, he didn’t have a lot of choices there. He knew rightly so he was next. They were coming to kill him the very next day. So he did have to get out of there. And his only protection would have been with the people that Scudder was trying to tell also. So that’s all true.
And then I made a note because I was really shocked as he goes through this in The Thirty-Nine Steps. Just being in contact with Scudder endangers him. Scudder put him in danger by staying at his house. And so what does Hannay do? He runs out and finds a bunch of people’s houses to stay. I wondered, aren’t they gonna murder these people like they want to murder you? Because you’re running around telling people. And weirdly, they don’t. I thought that was a plot hole. Because he goes out and he gets the innkeeper and he gives the innkeeper some story and stays there and actually gets the innkeeper to cover for him. Every person he stays with, he has to know he’s endangering because these are killers. They’re trying to kill him.
Carolyn Daughters 44:10
Well, he has that extra information by Julia Czechenyi.
Sarah Harrison 44:11
He does have Scudder’s book. But they don’t actually know he has Scudder’s book. And they don’t know he can decode it. And he he wasn’t going to have it until he just found it in the tobacco, which was really just Scottish cleverness in hiding it.
Carolyn Daughters 44:33
So Wendi, is he endangering all these people?
Sarah Harrison 44:36
Of course he is, Wendi.
Carolyn Daughters 44:39
Is he a good guy who’s just a bit of a ding-dong, as Sarah might say?
Wendi Anderson 44:46
He’s no ding dong, but I think his primary motivation is in fact to run, and that’s why he very quickly decides to disguise himself. At the same time, I feel like he intrinsically trusts people and thinks people are good, unless proven otherwise. Hence his motivation to try to avenge Scudder’s death or maybe not even avenge but but solve the espionage that is in front of them. I don’t think it dawns on him that people will get in trouble.
Sarah Harrison 45:41
It doesn’t dawn on him.
Wendi Anderson 45:43
I’m sorry, Carolyn. I don’t think he’s thinking that. I think that he’s thinking that these people are going to be left alone unless they find him in their presence, which is why he keeps running away. Although he’s not overly caring about the man that he makes sit in the car while he drives them around. Even though the guy has helped him. But I just don’t get that he thinks he’s intentionally endangering other people. He doesn’t even think about it.
Carolyn Daughters 46:32
He’s just not thinking.
Sarah Harrison 46:33
Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t occur to him that he’s doing the exact same thing Scudder did, which is show up with a crazy half-true story. Because we find out that Scudder didn’t completely told the truth. The truth is in Scudder’s book. And so he tells this crazy half-true story and needs sanctuary. And then the killing starts. But you know, it didn’t occur to him. But it occurred to me. Like, don’t get these nice people killed.
Carolyn Daughters 46:59
But they don’t get killed.
Sarah Harrison 47:01
I know. It’s so funny. They should get killed.
Carolyn Daughters 47:04
I feel like the Black Stone hired these weird, goony guys who were not any good at their jobs because I feel like he was findable.
Sarah Harrison 47:16
Yeah, they didn’t catch on to Sir Harry after the car is at the bottom of the ravine near Sir Harry’s house.
Carolyn Daughters 47:24
And didn’t he stay with the road worker for like a week?
Sarah Harrison 47:26
For two weeks. Ten days, the road worker nurses him back to health.
Carolyn Daughters 47:31
The Black Stone guys couldn’t peek in a window?
Sarah Harrison 47:39
Yeah, if they can’t see it from a plane, they can’t see you. That’s what I got out of it. Or if you don’t show up to their actual house.
Wendi Anderson 47:48
Right. Well, even all the men running after him up the hill and wherever he went couldn’t catch up to him? All those men? And he was wounded, right?
Sarah Harrison 48:01
Richard Hannay was just an ordinary guy. He was just ordinary.
Wendi Anderson 48:08
The Thirty-Nine Steps is a book. It’s like a movie. The good guy’s gonna get away right? But in all reality, of course, it very likely wouldn’t happen. Someone’s got to be faster than this injured guy.
Sarah Harrison 48:21
They don’t have his telescope eyes. He sees them with his telescope eyes, and then he can run away before they even see him. His ordinary, old regular telescope eyes.
Carolyn Daughters 48:34
Because this is Tea, Tonic, and Toxin we have so much to say we’re going to do a couple different podcast episodes.
Sarah Harrison 48:39
We have so much to say.
Carolyn Daughters 48:41
But before we wrap up this first part, I want to talk about this ordinary man. How ordinary is he? Is this you, listener? Sarah is this you?
Sarah Harrison 48:57
Totally. I have telescope eyes. Ordinary old telescope eyes.
Carolyn Daughters 49:01
I’ve always said so.
Sarah Harrison 49:02
I don’t know what we’re getting here with this ordinary man business. Are we just getting like his humility? Because he also seems quite clever. He can code break. He can unravel this book. He can tell all the government officials how to find the landing area by figuring out the puzzle. He can see really far. He can catch knives in his mouth. He has nerves of steel. He can use his mining engineer skills to make bombs in the dark that he can’t even see.
Carolyn Daughters 49:43
I’m going to be honest here. If I approached people I know and who like me, I think I would have had less success than he has.
Sarah Harrison 49:51
Like, No, you can’t stay here, Carolyn. Don’t be weird.
Carolyn Daughters 49:53
Yeah, this is my story. And like Wendi would be like, um, okay. I honestly feel his success rate was incredible. Wendi, what are your thoughts?
Wendi Anderson 50:04
It was crazy. Like I said earlier, he’s either lucky, super lucky, which he was, in fact, in any case. But maybe it was his demeanor, maybe he came off as so incredibly honest. And just even his presence. People automatically just were drawn to him or trusted him. But I think he thought he was ordinary more in the sense of, he wasn’t anything special. He had never been called out. He wasn’t rich. He wasn’t poor. He just wasn’t anything special. He did mention later in the book that he thought he was decent. And I’m going to forget the phrase he used, but he fancied himself a good mystery solver. That’s my thought.
Carolyn Daughters 51:01
He’s not a trained James Bond guy.
Sarah Harrison 51:05
He’s not even a freelance spy, which I didn’t know was a thing.
Carolyn Daughters 51:09
I know. I didn’t know this was a career choice until I read The Thirty-Nine Steps. How does one become a freelance spy? I’m busily doing research on the internet. And, no, listeners, I am not a freelance spy.
Sarah Harrison 51:26
That’s what she says.
Carolyn Daughters 51:28
I’m keeping to that story. No, I thought the same thing. I thought, is this a career choice? This is cool. Freelance spy.
Sarah Harrison 51:38
Did you feel like he was ordinary, Carolyn?
Carolyn Daughters 51:41
I felt like we were meant to believe he was ordinary. And it was very important to the author that we think he was ordinary. Because thinking he had some sort of special training or superhuman powers would make the book less interesting. Making him out to be every man is a great propaganda statement in the midst of a war.
Sarah Harrison 52:10
He says he’s no Sherlock. But now that the whole war context is there, I’m like, Oh, is this some kind of ordinary men can do this … do your bit and all that?
Carolyn Daughters 52:22
Reader, you too can step up and do things you never imagined you can do. I felt there was a propaganda element to it. And I was on board. He won me over. I was literally researching “freelance spy.”
Sarah Harrison 52:39
And I was researching Scottish phrases and foods. He sold me on another trip.
Carolyn Daughters 52:45
Sarah has booked a trip. I’ve since changed careers. Wendi, what has changed with you since you read The Thirty-Nine Steps?
Wendi Anderson 52:51
I think that I’m noticing details about landscapes more. Because if you’ll notice in his writing, he was very detailed and descriptive of everywhere he went. With regard to mountains and shrubbery and trees and water. Very, very descriptive.
Carolyn Daughters 53:16
And Sarah, Scotland is what you call the place of your heart.
Sarah Harrison 53:20
Oh, it is. Definitely. I think we talked about that in a different book. I don’t know which episode it was.
Carolyn Daughters 53:25
It probably had nothing to do with Scotland.
Sarah Harrison 53:28
Well, it had something to do with something.
Carolyn Daughters 53:33
That is probably true.
Sarah Harrison 53:35
We were just talking about places that felt like home to us. And you had a different place. I think it was southwestern, and I had a place, and it was Scotland.
Carolyn Daughters 53:49
I love New Mexico.
Sarah Harrison 53:50
Yes, that was the place. And so it was very pleasing to me that Scotland came back up again now in The Thirty-Nine Steps. And I’m like, yes, the whole breakfast is delicious. When I was 17, I got food poisoning in London. And it was right during the Mad Cow disease scare that our younger listeners will never remember. But there was a major Mad Cow disease thing going on. And, of course, we went to London and, of course, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe, and I had a hamburger. I don’t know why, I just do stupid stuff. But I got super food poisoning to the point where I couldn’t leave the room. I was feverish. I was hallucinating. And it was ruining everyone’s vacation.
On the third day after my food poisoning, we had gone up to Scotland. We were doing a trip and we went out to Spean Bridge, Scotland, which was like the highest point in the given area. And I just felt amazing. Honestly, it was like, I feel healed. I wasn’t sick anymore after that. Scotland has always had that effect on me just like oh, yes, this. It’s the place I’ve visited the most. I’m a little embarrassed because there’s so many places to visit, but I always keep wanting to go back.
Carolyn Daughters 55:17
Your maiden name is McMurray.
Sarah Harrison 55:19
Yes, it is.
Carolyn Daughters 55:20
I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Sarah Harrison 55:23
I don’t have a kilt or anything. Actually, I do. The Murray clan actually still has a live working castle, Blair Castle. And they have a gift shop, folks, with all of the Murray gear. In fact, I bought a bunch of stuff. I brought it up to the counter, and she goes “Are you a Murray?” I was liike, “yes, I am.” So I bought all this stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 55:54
It would be awesome if you weren’t a Murray and you were just buying all these Murray branded items.
Sarah Harrison 55:56
It’s the tartan. You can’t get Murray tartan everywhere. It’s not like McDonald or something.
Carolyn Daughters 56:08
Like the Murray house signpost and Murray Scotch glasses.
Sarah Harrison 56:12
They do have a glass with a castle engraved on it. And I did get it.
Carolyn Daughters 56:16
Are you a Murray? Nope. Wendi, do you have a place like Scotland, a place where you feel you’re at home?
Wendi Anderson 56:31
As you two were discussing that I thought about it, and I was afraid you were gonna ask me that question. Because I don’t necessarily have a good answer other than the top of Green Mountain, which is basically in my backyard. That is where I feel the most peaceful. I feel the most inclined to talk to folks who have passed away that were important to me. And it’s just a breath of fresh air every single time I get to the top.
Sarah Harrison 57:03
That’s perfect that it’s in your backyard. How awesome is that? I have to fly all the way to Scotland.
Wendi Anderson 57:10
That’s not so bad, either.
Carolyn Daughters 57:13
But your sense of home is at home, which is awesome. A lot of us can’t say that. I love Denver, I love Colorado. We live in a pretty good state. Let’s just be honest about it.
Sarah Harrison 57:38
Yeah. Gorgeous. When I was in Scotland, I was like, it’s like green Colorado. Of course, when I came to Colorado, I was like, it’s little Alaska.
Carolyn Daughters 57:51
Because you’re always contextualizing or framing it in what your knowledge base is or where you’ve been.
Wendi Anderson 57:59
I would love nothing more than to go to Scotland. It’s on my bucket list that I never seem to get to. But my husband and I both have a lot of Scottish ancestry. McCaslin and McSparin. And so I would love to visit Scotland. I’m very jealous that you’ve been there.
Sarah Harrison 58:23
You guys, it’s amazing. You should go. Let’s film our next episode there.
Carolyn Daughters 58:27
Let’s do it.
Wendi Anderson 58:29
Carolyn Daughters 58:30
We should at least just check that box. This is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
Sarah Harrison 58:33
I mean, it could be at least tax deductible or something, right? If you’re out there and how to get us to do this. Are you an accountant? Can you help?
Carolyn Daughters 58:45
Do you have an empty castle in Scotland waiting for guests?
Wendi Anderson 58:49
Are you bored with a ton of money?
Carolyn Daughters 58:53
Just reach out to Tea, Tonic, and Toxin. We will reward you with a sticker and our presence in your home.
Sarah Harrison 59:04
You can be on the podcast … if you’re funny or something.
Carolyn Daughters 59:09
That will potentially happen. But the sticker and our presence in your home? Those are givens. So Sarah, take us out.
Sarah Harrison 59:20
All right. Until next time, listeners, stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →