thriller

Exceptional First Sentences: The Thirty-Nine Steps

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“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.'”

***

I know I’ve noted before that things have been a wee bit quiet around here as of late–this is due to busy, busy, busy. I’ve been running around here, there, and everywhere and it seems as if this will continue for the next several months over the spread of many countries. I’m dead-tired today and can’t help but think of John Buchan’s man on the run, Richard Hannay.

I love The Thirty-Nine Steps and have seen many adaptations (my favorite has to be the stage play which I’ve seen twice). I have so many books lined up for this summer, but I can’t help but imagine running through Scotland on an adventure (minus murder, spies, and anarchist plots).

***

This book is available for free in the public domain.

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“Doppel” by Lindsay Smith

doppel“Doppel” is one of those short stories where everything at first appears very much on the surface, but really, that’s not the case. Lindsay Smith’s story is told in a series of exchanges between a British spy embedded in Nazi occupied France, his “nanny” (the Special Executive Office, which he reports to), and his handler.

Posing as a German businessman who has been living in the UK for a number of years, Agent Keystone is tasked with getting close to the mysterious SS-Oberführer Albrecht, who wears a Totenkopf ring on his finger (Totenkopf being the word for skull in German; it literally translates as death head). 

Agent Keystone finds the Nazis despicable, but he must hobnob and be amicable with Albrecht, which leads him to feel like there are two versions of himself.

As I lay awakened, I felt—as I have been feeling since this operation began—as if there was another presence inside of me, stretching at my skin, tugging me, trying to subsume the me that remains.”

As he carries on a friendly relationship with Albrecht, Agent Keystone begins to see something completely different from what he had initially anticipated. The SS-Oberführer is up to something, but honestly, knowing many of the strange and horrifying things the Nazis did in real life, I’m really not surprised my any of their notions. 

The story was written in a really engaging way. The correspondence voice between each British player is wholly its own and when Agent Keystone goes missing, the messages between the SEO and his handler point to the worst. Lindsay Smith mixes history, thriller, and mythology to pen a fun tale filled with suspense. The story is very approachable for any reader, but I advise you to pay close attention to what’s going on, even if it seems odd, because otherwise you might just miss the fantastical outcome.

This story is available by the publisher as an e-book for .99 cents and online.

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