Adventurer Richard Hannay, just returned from South Africa, is thoroughly bored with London life-until he is accosted by a mysterious American, who warns him of an assassination plot that could completely destabalise the fragile political balance of Europe. Initially sceptical, Hannay nonetheless harbours the man-but one dayreturns home to find him murdered... An obvious suspect, Hannay flees to his native Scotland, pursued by both the police and a cunning, ruthless enemy. His life and the security of Britan are in grave peril, and everything rests on the solution to a baffling enigma: what are the 'thirtty nine steps?'
I returned from the City about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life. I had been three months in the Old Country, and was fed up with it. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would have been feeling like that I should have laughed at him; but there was the fact. The weather made me liverish, the talk of the ordinary Englishman made me sick, I couldn't get enough exercise, and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda-water that has been standing in the sun. 'Richard Hannay,' I kept telling myself, 'you have got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you had better climb out.'