In John Buchan's famous short novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, much of the plot (ha) revolves around a German plot to assassinate the Greek Premier, which is thwarted by the story's hero. All this happens just before Britain joins the First World War.

Was this based on, or inspired by, any real-life plot?

  • 2
    The plot is not thwarted in the novel. Karolides is murdered.
    – Linn
    Dec 29, 2022 at 4:45

1 Answer 1


Surely the Serbian plot to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (the event which set off World War I) would not have been far from Buchan's mind, since he wrote it shortly after the start of the war.

This is in some sense the reverse ... a German plot to assassinate a Balkan head of state, rather than a Balkan plot to assassinate the Austrian heir to the throne.

I think this would have been sufficient inspiration for Buchan. I don't see why we need to postulate any real-life plot closer to the novel's plot.

  • The main difference being that the Serbian plot succeeded and the fictional German one failed ...
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 24, 2019 at 16:20
  • @Randal'Thor: Richard Hannay wasn't in Serbia at the time. :-)
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 24, 2019 at 17:58

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