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The Riddle of the Sands (1903)

by Erskine Childers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,586685,663 (3.59)260
While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers-- who served in the Royal Navy during World War I-- as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, "The Riddle of the Sands" accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.… (more)
  1. 60
    The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (simon_carr)
    simon_carr: Similar in many ways: plucky Englishman chances upon a dastardly German plot. Thoroughly enjoyable.
  2. 40
    Thirst for the Sea: The Sailing Adventures of Erskine Childers by Erskine Childers (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: The actual sailing logs and articles of Childer's real cruises, and smuggling!
  3. 10
    The riddle of Erskine Childers by Andrew Boyle (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: To know the man even better, read his now famous novel - the other riddle.
  4. 11
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: More spying and skulduggery
  5. 01
    The Zeal of the Convert by J. Burke Wilkinson (John_Vaughan)
  6. 01
    The Falcon on the Baltic by E. F. Knight (Cynfelyn)
    Cynfelyn: The Dulcibella sails the same waters the Falcon had sailed less than twenty years earlier. Some things have changed, for example the Kiel Canal has replaced the Eider Canal, but the weather, the sailing and the sense of place are the same.
  7. 02
    Biggles and the Black Peril by W. E. Johns (simon_carr)
    simon_carr: Espionage and dastardly Germans aplenty in both.
  8. 02
    The English Channel by Nigel Calder (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Cruises in the same water

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» See also 260 mentions

English (62)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (67)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Some years ago I heard that this book was purported to be one of the first spy novels, and had been instrumental in persuading the UK government and Admiralty of the danger of German invasion, years before the outbreak of WWI. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the book has a surprisingly easy to read style, apart from the density of seafaring detail and references to maps and charts. Yes, this book comes equipped with two maps and two charts, which the reader is often advised to consult, so won't be for everyone.

The 'conceit' is that Childers is merely editing a real life story based on a diary, charts, maps and the verbal accounts of two young men whom, to safeguard their identities, he has named Carruthers and Davies. Those of us accustomed to umpteen TV comedy sketches over the years where the upper class Englishman is usually called Carruthers might find this slightly amusing. The narrative is written as from Carruthers' POV, as the writer of the diary. He is a landlubber who ends up with more than he bargained for when he accepts an invitation from his old University friend Davies to join him on a duck hunt in the vicinity of the German Frisian islands. Carruthers' previous experience of the sea is as 'a pampered passenger' on a fine steam yacht, but instead he ends up on 'a scrubby little craft of doubtful build and distressing plainness', the Dulcibella, a ship which proves redoubtable during their subsequent adventures.

Davies is a natural seaman with an instinctive feel for handling a boat, especially in the difficult passages around the islands which are treacherous with sandbanks and where boats can easily run aground with the falling of the tide. He is happiest afloat wearing clothes as scruffy as his boat, and is fairly inept in social situations, especially where the subject of a young woman, daughter of a German businessman, Dollmann, is concerned. Carruthers gradually discovers that they are not actually there to shoot duck but because Davies needs a second hand onboard for an investigation into whether or not Dollmann is involved in espionage and German preparations to defend the coast using the navigable inlets along the coast, sheltered behind the line of Frisian islands. Having lived in Germany for a while, Carruthers speaks the language fluently whereas Davies has only a rudimentary ability so it is for this that he has chosen Carruthers to accompany him, plus Carruthers' contacts (he works in the Foreign Office in London).

Davies believes that Dollmann deliberately tried to kill him by offering to lead him through a safe passage and then stranding him in an area where the Dulcibella should have broken up in a storm - Davies escaped only by luck and the arrival of another sailing boat with a helpful owner who towed her back into deep water. Now Davies wants to find out why Dollmann was so determined to stop his explorations of the little channels, something he had been doing for enjoyment but which it seemed Dollmann viewed as the act of a spy from England. The two men proceed on a sometimes foolhardy exploration of the island channels and islands, with Carruthers gradually adapting to onboard life and becoming knowledgeable and capable enough by the end part of the story to carry out his own singlehanded investigation of the coastline.

Despite the difficulties sometimes - a glossary of nautical terms would have been handy - and the small size of the maps/charts which required use of a small magnifier with built in torch - I did enjoy the unfolding of the story, making allowances for the slightly old fashioned style and the occasional inclusion of attitudes or terms that were perfectly acceptable at the time but which are racist or sexist by today's standards. Fortunately, there are not too many of those. A slight criticism is that the final section where Carruthers takes the spying investigation up close and personal should have been imbued with much more tension and suspense.
( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
This book, Childers’s only novel, is said to be the model for all later thrillers from Eric Ambler to John Le Carre. Davies, an oddball friend from university, invites Carruthers to join him cruising on a yacht with perhaps a little duck hunting. The first portion of the book is dedicated to that cruise in language that reeks of upper-crust England. The reader begins to wonder exactly where the story is going when Davies explains that he is searching for someone who nearly killed him and whom he believes is a traitor. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game packed to the gills with nautical minutiae and terms (many of which were incomprehensible to me). It is a tribute to Childers’s abilities that I kept reading, despite the frequency with which the detailed nautical words and sentences appeared. The story itself, published in 1903, imagines a possible German invasion of England by sea and some of the writing dealing with contemporary politics and contemplating this is fascinating. (Fascinating postscript: Childers, born an Englishman, became involved in Irish politics before and during World War One, eventually using his yacht to bring arms and ammunition to the Irish, arms later later used in the Easter Rising in 1916. He was caught and executed by a firing squad. Said Winston Churchill: "No man has done more harm or done more genuine malice or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, actuated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth." In 1973 Erskine Hamilton Childers Jr. was elected the fourth president of Ireland.) ( )
  Gypsy_Boy | Aug 22, 2023 |
A lot of technical details about currents, tides and sailing. Best for people familiar with the Friesland area and/or sailing. The espionage aspects were ground-breaking in their realism when first published in 1903 but a bit dated now. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
Great (and fun) read! ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
BOTM for Reading 1001 in October 2021. I read and listened to this one. Written in 1903. the book is reportedly a first in the line of espionage literature. The story takes place on a yacht and in the waters along the European coat of Netherlands and Germany. Germany and England are working on naval supremacy and the story occurs before WWI. The book also is a book of yachtmenship and anyone who is in to that might enjoy the adventure. It wasn't always easy for the one who knows nothing. The detail is complete as far as the coast, the islands, and the sands. This book was a leading espionage and set the stage for those that followed. ( )
  Kristelh | Oct 8, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Forfatter: Erskine Childers

Boken beskriver to engelskmenns seilas i en knøttliten båt for vel 100 år siden. Området de seiler i er grunt og fullt av sandbanker, og to ganger i døgnet fylles og tømmes det av tidevannet. De gjør noen spennende oppdagelser om mulig invasjon av England... Boken har vært utgitt utallige ganger verden over og er også blitt filmatisert to ganger. På tross av at den ble skrevet for over hundre år siden, kan den leses som en moderne spenningsroman. Forfatteren og boken representerer hver for seg to meget interessante historier. Childers var ire, men kjempet for engelskmennene under Boerkrigen. Deretter ble han engasjert i IRA, der han drev med våpensmugling med sin 60 fot Colin Archer. Under første verdenskrig var han igjen å finne på britisk side. Boken fikk stor betydning for britenes forsvarstenkning.
Denne utgaven inneholder en epilog av forfatteren som ikke har vært publisert på norsk tidligere. Boken er glimrende oversatt av Jon Winge.
added by KystbiblioteketOslo | editFlyt Forlag, Anne Nygren
Apart from the political significance of the book, "The Riddle of the Sands" is fiction of a high quality. Its style and its permeating atmosphere of the sea suggest Conrad; and, like Conrad, the author takes us so thoroughly with him that our hearts beat with those of the perplexed voyagers, and we even share the smells and flavors of their cramped little yacht.

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Childers, Erskineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Childers, Erskine C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deymann, HubertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donaldson, NormanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drummond, MaldwinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lesser, AntonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Connor, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whistler, DanielIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude - save for a few black faces - have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at seven o'clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall.
But I did know something of Germany... I described her marvellous awakening in the last generation under the strength and wisdom of her rulers; her intense patriotic ardour; her seething industrial activity, and, most potent of all, the forces that are moulding modern Europe, her dream of a colonial empire, entailing her transformation from a land-power to a sea-power.
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While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers-- who served in the Royal Navy during World War I-- as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, "The Riddle of the Sands" accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.

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