Review: The Riddle of The Sands (A record of secret service) – Erskine Childers

the-riddle-of-the-sands-erskine-childersMy version:
Fiction Spy, Northern Germany, Denmark, Holland
Penguin Classics
First published: 1903

From the cover:

He set out as a sailor and returned as a spy.

Tempted by the idea of duck shooting, Carruthers joins his friend Davies on a yachting expedition in the Baltic. But Davies has more on his mind than killing fowl. As they navigate the waters and treacherous, shifting sands onboard The Dulcibella, Carruthers learns the real reason behind their trip and how the safety of Britain depends on it.

On a wild journey of intrigue and espionage, the two men meet danger at every turn, encounter strange sailors and English traitors, and discover a fleet of German war ships assembling amongst the Frisian islands, ready to invade across the North Sea…

A curious period-piece on the whole. Curious, as in, it is an interesting time capsule of how things were done back then. Remember, this was written before the First World War, and this is set in the section of society who lived upstairs, not downstairs. Writing-wise, it’s really not as dated as you might expect, and a darn sight more interesting – and at least there is a point to this – than The Secret Agent, from around the same time if I’m not mistaken. The idea behind the book, I think, was to warn and convince the British Govt, of the potential dangers of the German fleet coming into the North Sea through the sand banks of the Frisian area. That means, he wrote the book to show what he had found out, and show the powers that be, how, and where it could/would be done. “Good luck with that,” you’re probably thinking – both thinking about the pathetic paralysis of today’s British government and thinking of the “they wouldn’t do that! They might be Germans, but they’re still Gentlemen!” attitude of the government of the time. Though, to be fair, the British did eventually prepare for war from this area some ten years before it finally came, so the book probably did have an effect.

It is/was another on my list of the best spy fiction novels, I’m not sure it’s going to end as one of the best, maybe best to say it’s one of the very first spy novels, in an earnest Enid Blyton-type way.

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