New novel featuring Thirty-Nine Steps hero Richard Hannay is first for more than 80 years

Robert J Harris, author of The Thirty-One Kings. Photograph: Greg Macvean
Robert J Harris, author of The Thirty-One Kings. Photograph: Greg Macvean
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He is one of Scotland’s greatest literary heroes who was said to have been the prototype for James Bond.

Now the veteran soldier and secret agent Richard Hannay is set to make a comeback, more than a century after he first appeared in John Buchan’s thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps film.

Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps film.

Polygon, the Edinburgh-based publisher behind fresh editions of the character’s five original adventures, has unveiled plans for a new instalment.

And a series of books featuring Major-General Hannay could follow if the first, due to be released in October, is a success.

Dundee-born author Robert J Harris is behind The Thirty-One Kings, the first new Hannay book for more than 80 years, which is set shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. In the story, Hannay is called back into service while German troops are pouring into France after the suspected capture of an individual who is said to know “a secret upon which the whole future of Europe depends”.

Harris said Hannay’s “decency, quiet courage, and compassion” will make him just as attractive for readers today as he has been for previous generations.

Born in Perth in 1875, Buchan was a diplomat, barrister, journalist, historian and poet who would go on to write nearly 30 novels before his death in 1940, the year in which the new novel is set.

The inspiration for a new Hannay adventure came after Harris read the final passage of Buchan’s last novel, Sick Heart River, which was also set after the outbreak of the war. Its hero, Sir Edward Leithen, reflects that many of his old friends, including Hannay, will be serving their country again.

Harris, who lives in St Andrews, said: “When I read that, it seemed clear to me that Buchan already had it in the back of his mind to write at least one more grand tale.

“What started off as a regret that he had not been able to do so grew into a notion that perhaps I could write that book. Over the years the notion grew in my mind that perhaps I could be the one to write that novel, but I would need to have an interested publisher before I could take the time to do all the necessary research.

“I naturally reread all of the Hannay novels and carried out considerable historical research to make the setting as authentic as possible.

“My first contact with Hannay was when The Thirty-Nine Steps was one of the books we were required to read for English at secondary school. I managed to dodge most of those books, but I do remember reading this one.

“It was many years later that I discovered the other four Hannay novels as well as Buchan’s other work, all of which I have hugely enjoyed.

“I realised that people who had not read all of Buchan’s thrillers had no idea of their scope, nor of the fact that they create whole world of interconnected characters.”

Jan Rutherford, publicity and marketing director of Polygon, said: “We are very proud to be publishing this new adventure featuring Major-General Richard Hannay, John Buchan’s much-loved hero. He has been out of action for far too long.”