|Cool cover for the "book version" of The Thirty-Nine Steps|
The Thirty-Nine Steps(1915)
by John Buchan
9/10 people who have heard of The Thirty-Nine Steps are thinking about Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film version. John Buchan's novel is typically credited with being the first "true" spy novel in the way we understand it today, though any mention of that needs to also credit the 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands by Irish author Robert Childers. The Riddle of the Sands has many of the plot elements of the spy novel in place, specifically the discovery of a secret plan by Germans to invade England, but it is the The Thirty-Nine Steps, with its narrative of chase and retreat, that formalizes the conventional plot/stylistic elements of the spy novel as we know it today.
The protagaonist, Richard Hannay is a self-described "colonial" from South Africa with training in mining. He's a kind of early James Bond type.