No. 2 on The Guardian's Top ten books about spies
"The Riddle of the Sands is arguably the first great spy novel ever written."-from the introduction (by a former spy!)
Often considered the first espionage thriller, Erskine Childers's 1903 novel looks very different than its contemporary spawn. Slow, detailed, and a little boring, it's an important book for fans of the genre, but nor a particularly interesting or thrilling. It spends much of its first part detailing a sailing adventure before getting into the espionage part, which is rather British and dull. Childers's life was quite a bit more interesting than this book: he helped smuggle arms to the Irish during their struggle against the British and he was executed by a firing squad. Also see "The 39 Steps" and the Bulldog Drummond series. "It was devotion to the sea, wedded to a fire of pent-up patriotism struggling incessantly for an outlet in strenuous physical expression; a humanity, born of acute sensitiveness to his own limitations, only adding fuel to the flame."
I picked up this novel at a little hotel library in Iceland, and it was a fitting read, given that the hotel was right by a marina where huge ships came into dry-dock for repair. As the weather did not lend itself to sightseeing, and the hotel lobby had a good fireplace, it seemed like a good idea to curl up with this wonderful book of espionage that concerns the North Sea and the East Frisian Islands.
This particular edition is wonderful, given the Introduction by Milt Bearden, and the quality of the text itself, so I highly recommend it.
For those not familiar with this rather remote and isolated part of Germany, Google Maps and Earth can be tremendously helpful. While I found the story of the two young British adventurers to be engaging and at times absorbing enough to neglect my work to find out what would happen next, it was tremendously useful to call on Google to help me understand better the sands, the tides, and the geology of the "siels" around which the drama takes place. Those who love maritime history, World War I history, and German history will be particularly interested in this novel, as will those who appreciate the sensation novels of the Edwardian era. While it is not Bram Stoker's _Dracula_, it does share some narrative similarities.
I found the two characters, Davies, and the narrator, Carruthers, to be believable and sympathetic. The side plot with Davies' love for Clara Dollman was less engaging, but Herr Dollman himself is an interesting character, and some of the twists of the plot hinge on him.
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