Read The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service by Erskine Childers Geoffrey Household Online


This book is widely regarded as the first classic spy novel. Two unlikely sailing companions stumble into intrigue off the North Sea coast of pre-World War I Germany....

Title : The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140009057
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 328 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-04-13 15:33

    ”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 September 23 in recent years, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall. I thought the date and the placed justified the parallel: to my advantage even; for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted sensibilities and course fibre, and at least he is alone with nature, while I--well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a brilliant future in the foreign Office, may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September.”DulcibellaCarruthers is bored. He is afraid that he will become even more bored. Despite his self-professing connections with all the right people he has hit a snag for plans to relieve the dullness of his carefully controlled existence. Out of the blue, almost as if summoned by his stimulus deprived mind, a letter arrives from a University acquaintance inviting him for a bit of yachting in the Baltic, and a bit of sport shooting ducks. He doesn’t know Davies very well. In fact, he thought he was a rather odd solitary fellow in school, but weighing the embarrassment of a lack of plans, and the potential awkwardness of spending too much time with a man he might start to find annoying; he decides the embarrassment is more alarming than the potential awkwardness. He give Davies a go. When he arrives in Holland underwhelmed by the Dulcibella ( a reference to Erskine Childers’s sister of the same name). Visions of a crewed yacht with a cook, and staff to pamper him evaporate when he sees the cramped conditions of the boat. The crew? Well Davies forgot to mention that he might need Carruthers to lend a hand with the sailing. Carruthers has spent many hours, many days in fact on boats, but he doesn’t know the first bowline about sailing. He will learn. It is quickly apparent that Childers’s had a deep and abiding interest in sailing. For those that love sailing, this book will give you goosebumps over the details that Childers shares about how to sail a boat. ”Whilst Davies, taming the ropes the while, shouted into my ear the subtle mysteries of the art; that fidgeting ripple in the luff of the mainsail and the distant tattle from the hungry jib--signs that they are starved of wind and must be given more; the heavy list and wallow of the hull, the feel of the wind on your cheek instead of your nose, the broader angle of the bungee at the masthead--signs that they have too much, and that she is sagging recreantly to leeward instead of fighting to windward. He taught me the tactics for meeting squalls, and the way to press your advantage when they are defeated; the iron hand in the velvet glove that the wilful tiller needs if you are to gain your ends, with it, the exact set of the sheets necessary to get the easiest and swiftest play of the hull--all those things and many more I struggled to comprehend.”I felt like I had an anchor hitch around my ankles and was being dragged behind the boat after pages and pages of detailed yachting terminology started to turn my brain into a puddle on the foredeck. The book is set in 1901 and was published in 1903. It was interesting to hear these young British men speaking so highly of the progressiveness and aggressiveness of Germany. They were a decade away from WWI, but were already expressing fears that England was falling behind if ever there was a tussle with that thundering great nation.It doesn’t take Carruthers long to determine that he was not asked on this trip to shoot ducks. Davies had a run in with an Englishman named Dollmann and his lovely daughter Clara. In the process Davies was nearly run aground, and his heart has a new pitter patter whenever he has a thought for a certain sweet face. There is a lot of Germanic activity in the German Frisian Islands and the fear is that an invasion of England may be the end game of the rogue Dollmann and his German allies. Davies is torn between loyalty to his country and his growing love for Miss Dollmann. This is a very early thriller and certainly influenced the genre. It even changed British policy. ”In the years leading up to the First World War, the book’s influence was far-reaching. It actually alerted British naval intelligence to its own shortcomings and to the reality of the German threat, and Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty decided to establish naval bases at Invergordon, Rosyth on the Firth of Forth and Scapa Flow in Orkney.”Childers became involved in Irish politics before and during the war. He switched from being a loyal supporter of the British empire to an extreme Irish nationalist. He became great friends with Michael Collins. As what was suppose to be a symbolic gesture, Childers used his yacht to bring arms, and ammunition to the Irish Volunteers. Those weapons were later used in the Easter Rising in 1916. Childers was playing a very dangerous game. During the Anglo-Irish Treaty Childers became vehemently opposed to the treaty. The treaty divided the Irish. Before too long Childers finds himself the man without a country, and hunted by the Irish and the English. He was arrested by The Free State forces for carrying a firearm, a gun that was ironically a gift from Michael Collins. He was brought before a court and sentence to death. Childers had reached a point where the Irish who kept referring to him as that bloody Englishman and the British both wanted him out of the picture. Childers shook hands with each member of the firing squad. He even joked with them: ”Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.” He instructed his son to shake hands with each of the men that signed his death warrant. He made it clear to his son that his place was in Irish politics. In 1973 Erskine Hamilton Childers Jr. was elected the fourth president of Ireland. Winston Churchill obviously shaken by Childers fierce support of the Irish cause and in support of his execution made the following statement. "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."Erskine ChildersOn November 24th, 1922 Erskine Childers was executed.If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Paul
    2019-03-26 19:18

    2.5 stars rounded upThis 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 that simple and Childers went from being an ardent supporter of the British Empire, serving in the Boer War and being decorated in the First World War; to being an ardent supporter of Irish independence and member of the IRA and was shot by the British in 1922. This novel was written in 1903 when Childers was still in his Imperial phase and at the very start of the novel there are a couple of instances of the contempt for other races displayed by imperialists of a certain type; it reminded me of Kiernan’s arguments in “The Lords of Human Kind”. The plot is fairly straightforward. Carruthers is a minor official working for the foreign office; stuck in London when everyone else is away. He gets an invite to go sailing on the German coast by an acquaintance called Davies. When he arrives Davies has a tale to tell; he suspects the Germans are planning something shady in the area. This was in 1903 when war with Germany seemed unimaginable and the thought of invasion preposterous. Childers constructs a story to show it was possible and how it was possible. If you’re looking for an action-packed spy thriller this is not it. If you enjoy sailing and its technicalities (I don’t) then there is plenty of that. The relationship between the two men is developed quite well and Childers does build some tension quite effectively. The novel was very influential after its publication and had an effect on British naval policy and the decision to build new naval bases, including the one at Scapa Flow. I must admit I was more interested in Childers’ own story and his move from supporting the establishment to being a member of the IRA. There is a lot of sand, water, mud, cramped living conditions on small boats and descriptions of tides; you have been warned.

  • David
    2019-03-23 11:25

    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 upset election in the 1970's, sadly to die in office a year or so later. Whatever the circumstances of his life and death, this story is a "cracking good read", one of the earliest novels in the genre of spy fiction. Don't be put off by the various maps and charts at the beginning of the book - it is entirely possible to enjoy the story without knowing anything about sailing (though presumably the fun of the story will be heightened for those who do have some knowledge of sailing and maritime affairs). The voice of the narrator is irresistibly charming, the story is an excellent one, tautly told. I feel almost ashamed to be discovering this story as late in life as I am. But better late than never. I highly recommend this book.(I remain infinitely grateful to the Penguin Classics series, available in Spain here for a mere €2.50 a book. They are shooting to pieces my resolution to stop buying books, which I then end up carrying around like a pack-animal. But my rationalization is that I can ship them all home to the U.S. before leaving Salamanca. Next up "The 39 Steps", "The Railway Children", and "Greyfriars Bobby"!)

  • Cphe
    2019-03-31 12:44

    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. A lot of nautical terms which I wasn't familiar with but I do enjoy novels where the "underdog" triumphs against all odds.A seafaring adventure but takes some patience to get through with an abrupt ending.

  • Jane
    2019-03-23 12:41

    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 old university friend, Davies, who is sailing in the Baltic Sea and is in desperate need of supplies. Cheered up with the thought of spending a few weeks' pleasure cruising, Carruthers packs his trunks to join him.Unfortunately for him, Carruthers finds that Davies is sailing a converted lifeboat, charmingly named the Dulcibella, and has no crew and very little room. He grumbles and moans but is soon distracted by the machinations of Hans Dollman, who appears to be determined to stop Davies' exploratory charting of the Sands. To complicated matters further, Davies has fallen in love with Dollman's daughter Clara. Whatever Dollman hiding, he is prepared to kill to keep it secret.The movie version (Michael York as Carruthers, the late Simon MacCorkindale as Davies, and the lovely Jenny Agutter as Clara) is screaming out for a remake, hopefully one that details the nail-biting conclusion of the book.

  • Shovelmonkey1
    2019-04-14 13:35

    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 concerning this book? Nope. I bought it in a second hand store, motored home and curled up on the sofa with the vague and woolly notion of getting some sort of desert-based mystery, possibly with an archaeological flavour.WRONG WRONG WRONG! (stupid shovelmonkey1)In fact the story is as far from desert as it is possible to get because it is largely set aboard a boat in the Baltic Sea, therefore, in terms of environment it is the exact opposite of what I'd hoped for. Once I'd gotten over the hurdle of that minor, self imposed disappointment it is actually a decent read. One of the early spy novels (written in 1903), it went on to inspire and inform Le Carre, Buchan, Fleming and probably anyone else who ever wrote a tightly scripted spy thriller. This book has Brits spying on the Germans a good ten years before World War I kicked off, proving that the British were always insanely suspicious careful (although some elements of modern history suggests that they had pretty good reason to be).It largely concerns the oober Britishly named Carruthers and chum Davies as they negotiate treacherous sandbanks while tracking sinister and tricksy European types who are probably, maybe without a shadow of a doubt, up to no good in the murky mists off the German Frisian Islands. As usual it's all about Queen and country and not getting got by the damnable Gerrys. It is difficult to imagine how exciting a spy novel can be when it is predominantly populated only by two men on a boat, bobbing about near some islands which no one has ever heard of (apologies if you live on the Frisian Islands), but it managed to hold my notoriously short attention span and was a pleasant and diverting way to tick another book off the 1001 books list.

  • Laura
    2019-04-17 14:37

    It was quite interesting to read which inspired the modern espionage books.According to Mark Valentine,he ranked it in the top five spy stories of the 20th century, along with Buchan's The 39 Steps, Conrad's The Secret Agent Somerset Maugham's Ashenden and the now unjustly overlooked Bretherton, a Great War tale by Major W.F. Morris.This was the only fiction book written by Childers who was unfaithful charged by treason since he was found in possession of a firearm - a capital offense by the Irish government at that time, even if it was only a souvenir, a miniature pistol given him by Michael Collins!By irony of the destiny, his eldest son became the fourth President of Ireland.A memorable book with plenty of intrigue dealing with the threat of invasion of Britain by the Germans.

  • El
    2019-04-17 12:45

    I'm not sure I've ever been so happy to finish a book.From what I understand The Riddle of the Sands is considered one of the first spy stories (at 1903), though the validity of that statement is easily debatable. Regardless, I'm glad to see spy stories have improved significantly. Remember in Moby Dick (unabridged) there are all those chapters about the history of whaling, and whaling boats, and the anatomy of a whale, and what parts can be used for food and candlemaking and whatever else? That's sort of what this was like, except not nearly as exciting. What Childers did here was detail the sea, the beach, the boat, the people, et al, ad nauseum. I considered putting my face on a lit stovetop as that seemed infinitely more exciting than puttering through this.Carruthers is invited along on a boating holiday with Davies, and he's disappointed when he finds it's a mere sailing boat and not a freaking yacht or whatever. But whatever - Carruthers has no other life, so what the hey. After pages and pages and pages of some stuff that didn't seem the least bit important to me, Davies finally drops into conversation as almost an aside that Germans are considering some nasty plans in the area. Boys will be boys, so they go off (in their sailing boat) to save the day.Or whatever. That's what I was able to pull out of all the other babble. This is a very British story, filled to the gills with a lot of "By Jove!"'s and "Old chap!"'s and who knows what else. I think it's great there seems to be so many people who really dig this book, or claim they dig it, but I am clearly not one of them. I did, however, make myself finish it, just in case I was missing anything. I don't think I was, but you be your own judge.Side note: Childers was an Irish writer. I'm seriously beginning to think that I have a problem with Irish writers. I didn't think it was possible, but the books I most often mark at 1 or 2 stars wind up being written by an Irish. Except Dracula which I don't think counts since everyone thinks Bram Stoker is freaking Hungarian or something. Anyway, I'm waiting for the exception to this Irish-writers-suck phase. Certainly that can't be true.

  • Susan
    2019-03-25 15:42

    This book was given to me with the enticement of its being “the first spy novel.” This may be true, but just as the first submarine was clunky and didn’t submerge much, The Riddle of the Sands is heavy, outmoded and pretty much no fun to read. Like some of the John Buchan novels (Buchan was a fan of Childers), it is part propaganda, meant to spur on the Brits to prepare themselves against a German attack. Published in 1903, it was later seen as prescient so, historically, it has interest. It is also supposedly of interest to sailors for its great detail. But if you’re not excited about constantly following the instructions to refer to a tiny Map A or Chart B detailing the channels approaching the Frisian Islands, you’ll be disappointed. The author expects too much of us (he begs the reader to recall a half-hour pause in train schedules mentioned briefly twenty pages back) and explains all of the personal dynamics rather than showing them through dialogue and description.The drama of the ending was one that may have had great impact a century ago, as was its intent, but simply lies flat here in 2009.

  • ^
    2019-03-28 11:38

    Not to be missed.The publisher states on the back cover that "this thrilling adventure is now regarded as the first -- and one of the best -- spy novels ever written, inspiring later masters of the genre from John Buchan to John le Carre." The premise of the storyline is not so far fetched as one might initially suppose, given that the First World War broke out only eleven years later.First published in 1903, part of the charm of this book lies in remembering the naval technologies of that day. Sailing boats were built of wood, and there were no GPS systems! No radar or e-mail either. Back then, men plotted and survived by their wits, knowledge and character. I found the typeface and layout of this edition to be particularly pleasing. The maps are well worth initial study. Childers writes in tight, highly descriptive sentences, and is a master of written conversation. Once begun, this book is not easily set down by the reader.

  • Tim
    2019-04-09 19:45

    This is a great model for the kind of fiction I love to read: a mostly forgotten novel that evokes a very different place and time. It is billed as one of the first spy novels ever written (1903), a template for the modern thriller, but that's not what I like about it. It's the way it transports us to a time that is now forgotten.You see, the future always updates the past. We know the end of the story, and we interpret the beginning through the lens of the end. So we know all about WWI and the struggles to come in Europe. But here is someone thinking about the evolving struggle between Britain and Germany in 1903! How cool is that?(I also love the sense of the sliding window of history, as when one of the character remarks on a location by noting its bloody history when the Germans took that town from the Danes in '68. And then you realize that that long-forgotten war was as recent in 1903 as Vietnam is for us today. Each moment in time has its own window on recent history....speaking of which, also see the wonderful book about Shakespeare: 1599, which talks about how people looking for Shakespeare's "sources" and looking only in books miss the point: what was happening in history right then and there... I'll review that one separately.)Anyway, good story, fabulous characters, detailed descriptions of a place few of us will ever visit (the vast sandy estuaries at the mouth of the Elbe etc., behind the barrier islands of Nordeney and Juist), wonderful sense of time. A lovely read.It's funny, categorizing the book, I put it in "historical fiction," but of course at the time, it was current fiction -- in fact, a call to arms, trying to awake people in England to possible risks in a future war with Germany.I love the sense of

  • Mikela
    2019-04-17 15:29

    Considered to be the first of the modern spy/espionage thriller genre, this book set prior to World War I, was purported to have given the British Admiralty a wake-up call about the vulnerability of England should the Germans wage a surprise attack and to take action to prevent that from happening. Davies, a young man with considerable sailing knowledge and love of the sea is convinced that while sailing near the German Frisian Islands, an attempt was made to kill him in order to stop Davies from charting the area. He sends a telegram to an old school friend, Carruthers, asking him to join him on a sail. Carruthers, who is also our narrator, is a pampered, egotistical young man working in the foreign office wondering what to do with his upcoming leave as all the important entertainments have already expired or moved on to other areas of the country. Thinking the invitation a chance to have a two week pleasure cruise, he hastily accepts, packs his sailing whites and races to the harbour to meet his friend. What he finds instead is a converted lifeboat and that the crew is to consist of himself and Davies. Thus the two young men set sail to the Baltic Sea and Frisian Islands to unravel the mystery. The friendship of the two young men grew as they learned to trust each other and work together in the hope of discovering the German’s secret before they were caught and arrested as spies. There is, of course, as required in all spy novels, a love interest who they also attempt to rescue. Although very mild according to modern day spy thrillers, this was still entertaining enough to keep my interest. I found all the nautical references hard to understand and a bit tiresome but overall this is a decent spy novel and can imagine that when first published in 1903 it created quite a sensation.

  • DeAnna Knippling
    2019-04-17 15:18

    A novel of British sang-froid and spycraft, full of too many details and completely convincing. Enjoyed.

  • Alan
    2019-04-08 15:39

    This is a gripping, fascinating account of sailing and running aground on the sandbars of the marshy reaches in Frisia and Holland. I read this maybe a dozen years ago, after I had crewed on the midnight watch (watch and watch, four hours each) coming up from Jacksonville, FLA to Westport, MA. And I had crewed for a week in Penobscot Bay, ME, where I learned from charts that Maine has 3500 islands--and they all look alike, though they do vary from rocks with one pine to rocks and rocks with pines and pines. On that trip, well before GPS, the Master was an engineer and had great charts of every buoy, kept over decades--on a Cal 34.This was before I got my custom-designed cartoppable sailing trimaran--pic on my cover photo for FB, Alan P Bruno. Mine is an estuarial boat; my wife and I can cross 6" of water, or we can paddle with no wind--we have a pedal rudder and lee board, but no lee scuppers as on RH Dana's brig "Pilgrim" (now visitable at Dana Point, CA as is the "Mayflower" in Plymouth MA--but not as is the Charles W Morgan in Stonington, Conn., the real thing). Erskine Childers was a hero as well as a fine writer, whose son E Hamilton C became the Fourth Prime Minister of Ireland (1973); but the great writer was also a martyr, executed in 1922 for aiding the Irish Fenian movement with guns aboard his yacht. This was during the Irish Revolution.

  • Peter
    2019-04-15 11:27

    This is one of those books where you don't want the plot to unravel too quickly because you are enjoying the journey so much. When a competent seaman with frustrated Naval aspirations stumbles across suspicious German activity on the Friesian coast, he invites his German speaking friend, a sophisticated but minor civil servant to help him investigate under the pretext of a shooting holiday. The bored city gent 'Carruthers' accepts and discovers the multiple challenges of impromptu, amateur espionage is the fillip that they both need to blow away the doldrums and awaken the yearning for patriotism, romance and adventure.A great little book; A fore runner of more well known C20th spy novels, written with just the right mix of tempo and tension to keep you reading. It is a story well told by a complex believable character, full of descriptive, occasionally poetic, prose. It is also, I suspect, written with more than a little autobiographical detail and, like George Orwell, by a man with insight and talent enough to read the signs of his times; So much so that it was influential in changing British naval and military policy! German imperial aspirations and plans of military aggression as early as 1903 indeed?!

  • Evan
    2019-04-03 15:43

    This is a richly detailed yachting novel that happens to have a spy plot, the author's vision of spying as real as the vision boys with wooden swords in a treehouse might have of piracy. There is an admirable sense of atmosphere in the book, but hardly ever a sense of suspense. The complexity of characterization is far deeper than Childers's ability to make his characters interesting. Many passages stink of a florid, Victorian prose, and the much praised dinner scene near the end of the book is just terrible writing. I did get to look up loads of interesting nautical vocabulary, like "binnacle." The whole thing was far from the "rip-roaring" adventure novel I was promised.And why on Earth did Penguin choose to reveal the huge surprise ending in the blurb on the back of my book!?

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-04-12 11:26

    Up for free in audio from Forgotten Classics.

  • Perry Whitford
    2019-04-04 11:44

    'They've got no colonies to speak of, and must have them, like us.'When all is said and done, is there a clearer, simpler way to explain why a war between Germany and her imperial rivals in Europe was certain to happen? For the prescient Erskine Childers WWI was an inevitability more than a decade before it finally took place, which prompted him to write this wake-up call for the British government, which also turned out to be the first modern-day espionage novel.Davies, an English yachtsman indulging in a trip around the German-owned Frisian Islands, notices something fishy going on within their sandy channels, so casually invites an old friend of his from the Foreign Office to join him, nominally for some duck shooting.It doesn't take long for Carruthers to work out that Davies may have had a hidden agenda for asking him along, but his friend is unusually vague by nature, which is a useful device by which Childers begins to pile on the intrigue. Eventually Carruthers is able to prize some clarity out of his reticent sailing partner, learning that he is on the trail of a German businessman who he believes to be a spy and really an Englishman to boot, calling himself Dollmann. His desire to expose this traitor is further complicated by Davies' feelings for Dollmann's daughter, Clara, but how much does she know about her father's plans, and just exactly are those plans?As a confirmed fan of le Carre, I was really looking forward to reading The Riddle of the Sands, long recognised as a blueprint for the sophisticated espionage thriller. I have been sadly disappointed by more than one classic before though.Well, I am pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoying it, despite having little interest in or even understanding of yachting, which provides much of the excitement. Also, by the standards of subsequent espionage thrillers in a similar vein, very little happens, yet the accumulation of smalls details, red herrings and increasing danger gripped me throughout. Erskine Childers was an interesting chap if ever there was one, it's well worth giving his Wikipedia page a quick look. This novel effectively tipped the English to the real threat of a German invasion, leading to improved fortifications, yet Childers was an Irish Nationalist who hated the country of his birth with a passion. He lived to see his dream fulfilled, yet in the reprisals that followed Irish independence he was executed in suspicious circumstances. His son, Erskine Hamilton Childers, would go on to be the fourth President of Ireland.Coming back to that theme I opened up with about the inevitability of WWI, I think this additional quotation from the novel, also spoken by Davies, despite containing an unfortunate racial epithet offers more evidence of the imperial mindset of those times:'By Jove! we want a man like this Kaiser, who doesn't wait to be kicked, but works like a nigger for his country, and sees ahead.'Admiration for the military state the Kaiser was building was common back then, both in Britain and in America too. Logically, where else could that sense of respect for armaments and competition have led?

  • Darcy
    2019-04-02 15:40

    Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands (not to be confused with Geoffrey Knight's The Riddle of the Sands) is an odd Edwardian book that can't really be classified as non-fiction, but doesn't read much like novel, either. Childers himself wanted it that way; had it not been for the publisher, even the weak love plot would have been stripped away entirely, and the book mostly would have consisted of maps of the German coastline and log entries such as "wind WNW, steered ENE, fifty knots." Riveting stuff, of course. One gets the impression that even the spy plot itself is a concession to an uninterested British public that would only take notice of its maritime weaknesses if presented under the thin guise of a detective/spy thriller. And I use the term "thriller" loosely. The major crux of the novel is, of course, the discovery of a German plot to invade England. For myself, however, the most engaging element of the book is witnessing these two young Edwardian men struggle to find places for themselves in the modern world. Childers's not-so-subtle plea for young men to give up dandified ways of life in favor of roughing it in the North Sea comes off a bit heavy-handed at times, but on the whole he handles the transformations of Carruthers and Davies quite skillfully. Fans of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series will probably salivate over a book like The Riddle of the Sands, with its incredibly detailed descriptions of buoys, rigging lines, and oilcloths. Not to mention, of course, the four maps of the Frisian coast (complete with soundings). The rest of us, though, will spend our time wading (ha!) through unfamiliar language that often inhibits both an understanding of the enormity of the crisis and a basic grasp of the difficulties encountered by the heroes Carruthers and Davies. For all that, though, there's something charming about reading a novel that takes itself so seriously and refuses so adamantly to be considered a novel. If you've just finished Anthony Hope's romp through Ruritania and want something equally entertaining, then this isn't the novel you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're ensconced in a lighthouse somewhere off the coast of Norway and know what a fathom is, then by all means enjoy!

  • booklady
    2019-04-01 16:40

    I've had this book on my shelves for so many years (and then delayed reading it!) I was worried my edition might not be pictured here on goodreads. Of course I needn't have feared. Riddle of the Sands is such a classic and the folks here on goodreads so resourceful, every edition of this early English spy novel is bound to be listed—though I wouldn't know them all.I read and listened to this book and I'm not sure I would have gotten through it any other way.* It's very technical for this non sea-faring gal. Over and over again I found myself wishing to share it with my nautical brother who has departed this life. Mike would have loved this book! At only 10 years old he had built a boat for himself to take down to our ‘lake’. He was sailing with my Dad not long after that—not on a yacht but on a 29 foot sloop. I will definitely be giving my copy of this to my father next time I see him. He will love it! But I digress...The action of The Riddle of the Sands centers around two young men, Arthur Davies, the owner of the yacht, Dulcibella and his friend, Charles Carruthers, who he asks to join him in adventure along the north coast of the German Frisian islands. The story concerns their quest to uncover the true identity of a local sea-captain, Dollmann, and his purpose in navigating these waters. There are other minor characters who may—or may not—be in cahoots with Dollmann and there are numerous hypotheses offered as to why Dollmann is where he is doing what he’s doing, some of them legit and others not so, but always Davies and Carruthers are battling dwindling time and the elements, especially the sea, sands and fog. The Riddle of the Sands is an epic story which made history when it was published in 1903 and still stands as a modern classic. A must read, whether you have your sea legs or not! There is also a 1979 movie which I have not yet seen.* Audio Editions has an excellent version of this book, the only drawback being the lack of maps and charts included in the book. However, considering the technical nature of some parts of the book, I also appreciated being able to listen as well as read silently to myself. Forced to choose one over the other, however, I would recommend the written text.

  • Chris
    2019-04-05 12:22

    I don't normally seek out thrillers, even classic ones such as The Riddle of the Sands, and though this has historic interest – set just before the Second Boer War and scant years before the death of Victoria – it's not a period I'm particularly interested in. Add to this that it's about sailing on the North Sea coast of Germany when dismal autumnal fogs abound and it sounds like a novel I would normally pass over. But after an initially slow but deliberately drab beginning the story picks up, starts to tease the imagination and, even for the recalcitrant landlubber, sparks admiration for the enthusiasm and bravery of the two protagonists.The novel opens in or around 1897 with Carruthers (we never know his first name, though the 1979 film has his given name as Charles) in despondent mood at the Foreign Office: society functions in September are few and far between and Parliament is still in recess. An invitation from a former acquaintance at Oxford, Arthur Davies, to sail the Baltic in a yacht and indulge in some duck-shooting offers an opportunity to escape boredom, but once abroad (and aboard) he discovers all is not as it seems. The yacht is not the luxury boat he expected, the crew will number just one – himself – and precious little duck-shooting will present itself. In fact, Davies is nursing a secret worry that soon turns the vacation from cruise to, as the subtitle informs, secret service. Much of the framework of Erskine Childers' novel is provided by the actual logs he kept when cruising the very same coasts in 1897 in the Vixen; a century later the logs still survive, stored in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. Childers apparently described the Vixen as "a very ugly little 5 tonner with no headroom" but, along with the fact that the Riddle's converted ship’s lifeboat was named the Dulcibella after his sister, his evident fondness for the craft comes through strongly in the novel.In the Preface and the Epilogue Childers makes the pretence that he has received the facts of the case from two gentlemen he calls 'Carruthers' and 'Davies', and that he has furnished a first-person narrative by combining Carruthers' notes, plus the logbook and charts from the Dulcibella and interviews with the two men. But while Childers is supposedly what we'd now call the ghost-writer, it is crystal clear that both of our intrepid heroes reflect aspects of Childers' own personality: love of seamanship, love of country (or, rather, a chosen cause), bravery combined with calculated risk-taking and resourcefulness. These aspects are evident in the author's eventful life as student, clerk in the House of Commons, soldier in the Boer War, chronicler, amateur sailor and, later in the 20th century, Irish nationalist, gun-runner and firing-squad victim in Ireland's civil war. The Riddle of the Sands however eschews the violence, casual gun-play and pulp fiction cliffhangers that typify most subsequent spy-thrillers in favour of dogged leg-work, lengthy rational argument and consummate patience, all of which seems characteristic of Childers himself.Doggedness, lengthy argument and patience aren't normally recommendations for a thriller, and yet The Riddle of the Sands is very gripping. Its tension as well as appeal lies in the frequent descriptions of ordinary situations that could mask likely threat and actual danger. The whole carries a sense of authenticity, based as it is on a record of sailing trips, real places and Childers' knowledge of German and Germany, that convinces the reader more than the gadgetry and reliance on dramatic coincidence that can be the stock in trade of the genre. In fact, in the days before even zepellins let alone aircraft or even drones it's impossible to underestimate the importance of surveillance on the ground, or even on shifting sands, of the type that Carruthers and Davies undertake. Riddle is a landmark in this genre, just preceded perhaps by Kipling's Kim in 1901 (Childers' novel appeared in 1903); its literary influence reached through John Buchan, Ian Fleming and beyond. It's political influence, however, was uppermost in the author's mind, as he did view the military potential of Germany, in particular its naval ambitions, as a real threat to Britain's imperial status and national safety, and he felt that his government was both complacent and unprepared when it came to Britain's sea defences in the North Sea. The emphasis in the book shifts from interest in German's own sea defences to its likely plans for attack and invasion through England's east coast – the very route for ingress by Angles, Jutes and Saxons in the Dark Ages and later by Danish Vikings – and in this Childers hoped to influence Cabinet and Ministry policy in an area he thought deficient. The popularity of the book apparently did have the author's intended effect which was to affect change, so necessary in the run-up (though unsuspected at the time) to the Great War a few years later.But this was fiction, his only fiction perhaps, and so we moderns now engage less with strategy and more with characters. Apart from Davies and Carruthers (the latter name survives in many parodies of ripping yarns of derring-do and stiff upper lips) we have a German naval commander who gains Carruthers' respect, a murderous traitor who appears to escape retribution, a vapid love interest and sundry Germans with latent or real menace. Include in this mixture detailed maps and charts to plot the course of action and it's not surprising that The Riddle of the Sands pleasantly confounded my expectations and justified its inclusion in lists of key must-reads of fiction.

  • Scott
    2019-03-25 13:40

    Often described as the first English spy novelist, Erskine Childers wrote The Riddle of the Sands (1903) some ten years before the outbreak of World War I to awaken the British public to the dangers posed by an increasingly aggressive Germany. The plot starts off simply: while yachting in the Frisian islands, two young English gentlemen (Davies & Carruthers) become entangled in an odd series of events involving a dangerous captain, his lovely daughter, and sunken treasure. But in spite of these romantic and alluring elements, the story runs afoul in the telling: heavily laden with nautical jargon, public school cant, and tedious, elliptical argument, Carruther's narrative reads more like Henry James' version of a ship's log than a Tom Clancey page-turner. While its meticulous details and fussy Edwardian style lend the story an air of authenticity, its plodding pace and lack of suspense make it a far better lullaby than alarm. In fact, except for depth soundings, sculling, warping, kedging, and slogging through the mud, very little happens in the chilly Frisian sands for nearly two-hundred pages. The pace picks up from chapter twenty on, but the baffling plot becomes increasingly difficult to follow without constant reference to maps. The characters, too, suffer the author's awkward treatment: though clearly drawn and interesting from the beginning, they are summarily dismissed near the end of the tale so that Childers can satisfy his need to blow his horn in bald and boring prose. If you love to sail and the thought of the fogbound North Sea coast of Germany in October appeals to you, you may enjoy The Riddle of the Sands; if you're looking for an action-packed old-school thriller, though, you may find the spy fiction of Sapper, Buchan, Mackenzie, or Ambler much more satisfying.

  • Tim Robinson
    2019-04-08 14:31

    Don't read the "official" review, as it is a spoiler.Caruthers works in the foreign office and is stranded in London while all his friends are off on holiday. Suddenly, he gets an unexpected invitation to do some yachting and duck shooting on the Baltic with old school acquaintance Davies.The first half of the book is Three Men in a Boat meets Three Men on a Bummel, messing about in a tiny vessel off the coast of Germany. This part is rather too long, but persist. It transpires that Davies has a story to tell, and the Germans are up to something sinister. At this point, it becomes a gripping spy story, with a midnight intruder, a traitor with a beautiful daughter, a battle of wits, an island of secrets and a daring raid through the fog.

  • John
    2019-03-21 15:24

    This really didn't rock my boat (pun fully intended). If I had had many years of direct nautical experience and knew by heart the meanings of the plethora of nautical terms used here, things may have been different. I didn't like myself or the author by the end of the book, though the book's two central characters I found appealing. The most interesting factor here for me was that this book was published in 1902, 12 years before the outbreak of the Great War. Anyone reading the novel, prior to the outbreak of the war, should therefore not have been surprised. Germany would seem to have been preparing for war at sea even at the start of the century, long before the Archduke's assassination. Was the author predicting it? And could the contemporary reader possibly foresee here the fate that awaited the author – in the early days of the Irish Free State – execution.

  • Lobstergirl
    2019-04-14 18:44

    This is Childers' only novel, written as propaganda to urge the British government to develop defenses against a possible German invasion pre-World War I, or at least mandatory naval service. Yachtsman Davies has persuaded his Oxford acquaintance Carruthers, not entirely forthrightly, to accompany him as mate on a meandering journey through the North Sea waters and sands of the German East Frisian Islands, at high tide and low, on the cramped Dulcibella. We soon find out that Davies needs Carruthers' help to figure out the intentions of the mysterious seafaring Herr Dollmann. Not a whole lot happens for much of the book, aside from sailing, but Childers' writing style is charming and antique, clearly lending inspiration to John Buchan.

  • Bethan
    2019-03-22 17:21

    If you are interested in sailing, READ THIS(!) Lots of sailing terminology and even maps provided. And if you like that very classic British 'feel' from the early twentieth century - the fact that Childers was embarrassed to put in a love story because his publisher made him kind of says it all - and a spy story. It's two chaps finding themselves together on a decrepit old boat on the German shores and trying to find out what is going on there (espionage). It was just OK for me but it's an early classic in the genre and there is some amusing and charming depiction of how differently the two men experienced the boat. Not to mention prescient about Germany's aims. Russia hello.

  • Manray9
    2019-03-28 16:22

    Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands is more interesting as a historical specimen than a novel. The plot develops too slowly and is, ultimately, rather far-fetched. It was a popular sensation when published in 1903 and hence Childers is often credited with creation of the first spy novel. Many critics see him as the predecessor of John Buchan and Eric Ambler. The lengthy sections of the novel dealing with the minutiae of small craft navigation under canvas may not be of interest to those without familiarity with maritime life. I’ll give it Three Stars as a window into an era.

  • Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
    2019-04-16 14:30

    I read this in my youth, enjoyed it, bought a copy to read again, enjoyed it and passed it one then repeated the whole process a few years later. It's a reasonably good spy story but it's also nicely intertwined with a book about sailing which actually turns out to be quite interesting.

  • Kim
    2019-04-15 15:30

    "The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service" is a 1903 novel written by Erskine Childers. According to the back of the book it is regarded as the first important British spy novel and one of the best examples of the genre ever written. I'm not sure who regarded it as those things it just says "by many critics" on the back and that could be just about anybody, although I guess it means those people who sit around telling us how horrible or wonderful, usually horrible, a book is and I don't pay attention to them in the first place.I was actually dreading this book. At different places I've read that it offers readers "richly authentic details" about inshore sailing. I don't want to read about inshore sailing or offshore sailing or any other sailing for that matter. You get on a boat, get someone to push you out into the water and hope that someone on the boat knows what to do with all those sails to get back to shore again. That's all I need to know. I remember, thankfully they are fading, my "Moby Dick" days. They almost ruined me forever reading another book that took place on the sea, or on the river, or a lake, or any other body of water. Unlike the vast majority of people, at least I think the vast majority, I did not love "Moby Dick", I didn't like it either, it almost drove me crazy. I now know what a waif is, I know what druggs are, and white-horse (blubber), and plum-pudding (more blubber), gurry and nippers. I know all about new sails and old sails, canvas, riggings, lines, harpoons, spars, it was like reading the whale encylopedia and unfortunately, I don't care about how to catch whales. Anyway, back to this book, as I said I was dreading reading it and had to remind myself that there were other books out there that had taken place mostly on the water, some water someplace, and I had enjoyed them all, so I cleared my mind as much as it ever gets clear and opened the book. The first line amazed me and that was in the introduction. I never read introductions until I finished the book or unless I'm totally confused about what is happening and hope that the instruction will give me a clue, but this first line caught my eye and after reading it I did move on to the story, but I did go looking for information on Erskine Childers the minute I was finished. The line was:"Even if its author had died peacefully in bed instead of before a firing squad in a dingy barracks, "The Riddle of the Sands" would have been a noteworthy book, possessing as it does a threefold attraction." He died before a firing squad? How in the world do you manage to get yourself shot by a firing squad? I wouldn't think it would be easy, I hope not anyway. From what I've now read Childers was an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard .On November 10, 1922 Childers was arrested by Free State forces at his home in Glendalough, County Wicklow. He was tried by a military court on the charge of possessing a Spanish-made "Destroyer" .32 calibre semi-automatic pistol on his person in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution. Childers was convicted by the military court and sentenced to death on November 20. While his appeal against the sentence was still pending, Childers was executed on November 24 by firing squad at the Beggar's Bush Barracks in Dublin. It seems to me like they could have waited until after his appeal. Now I'll say it once more and mean it this time, on to the book.Our story begins, after a preface from the author trying to convince us that our main character, Carruthers is a real person saying:"A WORD about the origin and authorship of this book.In October last (1902), my friend 'Carruthers' visited me in my chambers, and, under a provisional pledge of secrecy, told me frankly the whole of the adventure described in these pages. Till then I had only known as much as the rest of his friends, namely, that he had recently undergone experiences during a yachting cruise with a certain Mr 'Davies' which had left a deep mark on his character and habits......After weighing both sides of the question, I gave my vote emphatically for publication. The personal drawbacks could, I thought, with tact be neutralized; while, from the public point of view, nothing but good could come from submitting the case to the common sense of the country at large. Publication, therefore, was agreed upon, and the next point was the form it should take"The actual story begins with Carruthers, a British Foreign Office employee, he had to stay behind at his office when all other "London society" was away from London on their holiday. You would have thought it was a worst tradegy ever:"I—well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a brilliant, future in the Foreign Office—may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September. I say 'martyrdom', but in fact the case was infinitely worse. For to feel oneself a martyr, as everybody knows, is a pleasurable thing, and the true tragedy of my position was that I had passed that stage.""Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness, and this it was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening. Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would be at an end. Yes, but—irony of ironies!—I had nowhere to go to! The Morven Lodge party was breaking up. A dreadful rumour as to an engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed, and bred in me that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat through insignificance. Invitations for a later date, which I had declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request, now rose up spectrally to taunt me. There was at least one which I could easily have revived, but neither in this case nor in any other had there been any renewal of pressure, and there are moments when the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to be contemplated."It is at this 'the lowest point of his life' time that he receives a letter from Davies, a man he had known when they were both students at Oxford. The letter is an invitation to join him yachting and duck shooting on the Baltic:" So I merely write on the offchance to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little yachting, and, I hope, duck shooting. I know you're keen on shooting, and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too, though I rather forget about that. This part of the Baltic—the Schleswig fiords—is a splendid cruising-ground—A 1 scenery—and there ought to be plenty of duck about soon, if it gets cold enough."Carruthers agrees, and it is amusing when Davies then asks him to bring quite an assortment of goods along with him and following Carruthers all over the city trying to find it all.Some of the things he is to bring is; his gun and a good lot of No. 4's; he is also to call at Lancaster's and asking for Davis gun. He should bring oilskins, the eleven-shilling sort, jacket and trousers—"not the 'yachting' brand", a prismatic compass, and a pound of Raven Mixture, No. 3 Rippingille stove'Carruthers says this:"At Lancaster's I inquired for his gun, was received coolly, and had to pay a heavy bill, which it seemed to have incurred, before it was handed over. Having ordered the gun and No. 4's to be sent to my chambers, I bought the Raven mixture with that peculiar sense of injury which the prospect of smuggling in another's behalf always entails; and wondered where in the world Carey and Neilson's was, a firm which Davies spoke of as though it were as well known as the Bank of England or the Stores, instead of specializing in 'rigging-screws', whatever they might be. They sounded important, though, and it would be only polite to unearth them. I connected them with the 'few repairs,' and awoke new misgivings. At the Stores I asked for a No. 3 Rippingille stove, and was confronted with a formidable and hideous piece of ironmongery, which burned petroleum in two capacious tanks, horribly prophetic of a smell of warm oil."Carruthers is assuming that Davies’ yacht, the "Ducibella" , will be a luxury vessel with a crew. So, when he arrives at the port to meet Davies, he’s disappointed to discover that actually she’s a small sailing boat." Hazily there floated through my mind my last embarkation on a yacht; my faultless attire, the trim gig and obsequious sailors, the accommodation ladder flashing with varnish and brass in the August sun; the orderly, snowy decks and basket chairs under the awning aft. What a contrast with this sordid midnight scramble, over damp meat and littered packing-cases! The bitterest touch of all was a growing sense of inferiority and ignorance which I had never before been allowed to feel in my experience of yachts."Although Carruthers is disappointed, the two still set sail across the North Sea and into the Baltic, heading for the Frisian Islands, off the coast of Germany. I had fun reading about Carruthers learning how to sail the small boat. When I was slowing drifting throw the sailing terms parts or whatever you want to call them, when whatever I want to know about sailing is coming at me I liked that Carruthers felt the same way:"There was a heavy swell there, and when we struck, the dinghy, which was towing astern, came home on her painter and down with a crash on the yacht's weather quarter. I stuck out one hand to ward it off and got it nipped on the gunwale. She was badly stove in and useless, so I couldn't run out the kedge'—this was Greek to me, but I let him go on—"After they are out on the water Davies gradually reveals that they are not there to shoot ducks but he suspects that the Germans are up to something, something they shouldn't be up to in the German Frisian islands, based on his belief that he was wrecked deliberatly by a German yacht. He thinks it was deliberate anyway. So instead of looking for ducks they sail around looking for Germans which they keep finding probably because of where they are. However, that is all you are going to find out from me. Whether the Germans are planning something awful for England, whether there are German spies, or English spies, or English people spying for Germany, or German people spying for England you are going to have to find out by reading the book, reading other reviews or just googling it. Oh, and be prepared for the maps and charts and such things, fairly often we're told to refer to Map A or Chart B or some such thing, I did for awhile then just got tired of turning back and forth and gave up on that. I gave it four stars because I was impressed that a book on the water, and lots of water, and sand with lots and lots of yachting descriptions could hold my attention the entire time.

  • Dave
    2019-04-15 19:23

    One problem with reading the first of something is how annoying it can be when it doesn't give you what you expect. Anyone who already likes mystery stories can be disappointed by reading Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" or Collins's The Moonstone because the authors break the rules that didn't yet exist. This is like that. This is an early "Spy Story," but really it's mostly a novel about two friends getting to know one another while sailing around the sandy northern coast of Holland and Germany. I mean, there's like 100 pages of sailing details in here. Plus more interesting characterizations of Carruthers and Davies than one really needs. Still, the adventure in the fog to spy on the conspirators is fun, and there's enough mystery to sustain the plot. But how many times can one look at very grainy maps and charts? I gave up on that early on. Recommended leaner variants: The 39 Steps, Treasure Island, The Gold-Bug.Great cover-- from Penguin's wonderful "Boys' Books" series.