...John Buchan's little thriller, "The 39 Steps," which was published in 1915. It was made into a classic movie by Alfred Hitchcock, with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, and the original remains a remarkably readable book. Buchan was a master of the novel in which action jumps off the page from the first paragraph, which we today associate with the books of Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy. Fortunately, I never saw the movie, so the book is entirely new to me.
It's a short book, only 149 pages, and recently was republished in pocket-sized paperback by Penguin. Here is the first paragraph, full of information and suggestion and energy:
"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.'"