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The Riddle of the Sands

Erskine Childers

Book Overview: 

Containing many details based on Childers’ own sailing trips along the German North Sea coast, the book is the retelling of a yachting expedition in the early 20th century combined with an adventurous spy story.

The plot involves the uncovering of secret German preparations for an invasion of the United Kingdom.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .So I have told you many times. How did you like Flensburg? A fine town, is it not? Did you find Herr Krank, the carpenter? I see you have placed a little mizzen-mast. The rudder was nothing much, but it was well that it held to the Eider. But she is strong and good, your little ship, and—Heaven!—she had need be so.' He chuckled, and shook his head at Davies as at a wayward child.

This is all the conversation that I need record. For my part I merely waited for its end, determined on my course, which was to know the truth once and for all, and make an end of these distracting mystifications. Davies plied his friend with coffee, and kept up the talk gallantly; but affectionate as he was, his manner plainly showed that he wanted to be alone with me.

The gist of the little skipper's talk was a parental warning that, though we were well enough here in the 'Ost-See', it was time for little boats to be looking for winter quarters. That he himself was. . . Read More

Community Reviews

”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 t...more

Erskine Childers was shot by firing squad during the Irish civil war in 1922. According to Wikipedia, his last words were a joke at the expense of his executioners: "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way."
His son was subsequently elected fourth president of Ireland in an up...more

This book (and the movie adaptation) was much loved in my family home.
Childers wrote it pre-WWI and it's based on a sailing trip he took around the Frisian sands.

The book is told from Carruther's perspective. He is wasting away summer in London's Foreign Office when he receives a missive from an...more

It's often credited with being the first spy novel, but The Riddle of the Sands was a rather dull affair. We follow two Englishmen in 1901 as they sail around Germany and stumble into a German plot.

The book had a very strong focus on sailing and a lot of text was spent describing yachting. It se...more

Published in 1903, this is both an old-fashioned (in a good way) adventure and a warning to England’s government of the dangers of Germany’s naval plans in the event of war against England. It captures a historical moment marvellously: when young men with no training or formal status could turn i...more

The short book is usually considered the first, if not one of the first, spy thrillers. That is not usually my genre but it always appears on the lists of great "mystery" books, so I thought I should give it a try. Written in 1903, it tells a story which is a precursor to WWI in which German agen...more

I read this book because I totally thought it was about something else. This is what happens when you see a book on a list, in this case the 1001 books to read before you die list, and run off at a tangent because it has the word "sand" in the title! Did I pause to read the 1001BTRBYD entry conce...more

As for the other two, the girl when I saw her next, in her short boating skirt and tam-o'-shanter, was a miracle of coolness and pluck. But for her I should never have got him away. And ah! how good it was to be out in the wholesome rain again, hurrying to the harbour with my two charges, hurryin...more

A bit misleading, the cover of this historical thriller. Initially thought that this novel was set in Egypt instead of the German Coast pre WW1. Found this to be a slow read indeed, had a "boys own adventure" feel to it.

A bit of a "slow burner" for sure but some wonderful atmosphere and dialogue....more

2.5 stars rounded up
This novel is quite an oddity; a very early example of the spy genre and very influential amongst later writers like Le Carre, Follett and Fleming and comparable to Haggard and Buchan. Its author a traditional example of the “stuff that made the Empire”. Of course, nothing is...more

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