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The Riddle of the Sands

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3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  2,686 ratings  ·  310 reviews
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 litera ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 10th 2002 by Modern Library (first published January 1st 1902)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”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 ...more
Paul
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 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
...more
David
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 s
...more
Shovelmonkey1
Jan 30, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: spy lovers and people who like a lot of sailing references
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: a misreading of the 1001 books list
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 archaeolo ...more
Laura
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 I
...more
El
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
...more
Susan
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
...more
Mikela
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 fro
...more
Jane
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
...more
^
Feb 04, 2015 ^ rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who like spy or sailing stories
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.
...more
Jim Leckband
Okay, you've read the hype about this book - "First spy thriller ever written" etc., etc. This book is not that book in the way you might expect. This is not James Bond or Le Carre or Greene where there is a roller coaster of spy-vs.-spy and intrigue and double-crosses and high body counts.

No, this is a book about sand. And tides. And the boats that scoot around sand. And tides. And the men who steer the boats that scoot around sand. And tides. And the men who are interested about finding out ab
...more
Evan
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 ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jan 15, 2015 Jenny (Reading Envy) marked it as to-read
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Julie Davis
Up for free in audio from Forgotten Classics.
Tim Robinson
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
...more
Tim
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
...more
booklady
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
...more
Lobstergirl
Jan 08, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vera Wang
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 Carrut ...more
Bethan
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 ...more
Geoffrey Gudgion
Very much of its era (early 1900's) so the style is peppered with expressions like "by Jove, Carruthers!" Some excellent descriptions of small-boat sailing, but other passages are as tortuous as the channels our two heroes must navigate. The book was no doubt ground-breaking in its time as one of the first spy novels, and prescient in its predictions of conflict between Germany and Great Britain more than a decade before the outbreak of the First World War. A spiffing read for sailors and for af ...more
Nick Duretta
This is more impressive to me for its place in history (it is often called the first spy thriller)--and its remarkable prescience--than as an engaging novel. It is extremely tame compared to today's thrillers, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's so much nautical lingo and detailed examinations of maps of Germany's North Sea coast that the plot often seems secondary. Oh yes, the plot. Two British men, ostensibly on a cruise off the coast of Germany to do some duck hunting, get wind o ...more
Nader Elhefnawy
Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands is famous as the modern spy novel, and in the view of some, even as the first modern thriller. However, as is the case with much "invasion" literature (which you can think of as a Victorian-Edwardian counterpart to the military techno-thrillers of Clancy and company), the dating of the story has eliminated the topicality that made it such a hit a century ago – without giving it much in the way of historical interest.

What remains is the actual stuff of the no
...more
Scott
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 th
...more
Chris
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, s ...more
Bev
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers is another one of those books. Like A Coffin for Dimitrios by Ambler, it's a big deal. Ambler is credited with inventing the modern suspense novel. Childers is credited by many critics as having written one of the best spy novels ever written--the classic Secret Service novel. It's supposed to be a terrific spy novel kind of book. I get that. I get that Childers did something great and did it early (1903!). But it just didn't do a whole lot for me.

Why,
...more
Michael Walkden
Erskine Childers was shot in 1922, probably for writing this novel.

"The style was unadorned, but scholarly and pithy. There was no trace of the writer's individuality, save a certain subdued relish in describing banks and shoals... For the rest, I found the book dull, and, in fact, it sent me to sleep."

- Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands, Chapter 20

"Now what sort of coast is it? Even on this small map you can see at once, by all those wavy lines, shoals and sand everywhere, blocking nine
...more
Edmund Pickett
Published in 1903 by an Irishman who was later to serve in the British Navy, fight for the IRA, and be executed by the Free Irish government.
The story concerns an unlikely pair of English friends sailing a very small yacht off the Frisian coast (north Germany) to uncover a covert German plan to invade England. Once again I was forced to wonder why writers who sail believe that all readers are dying to learn the details of every maneuver of a sailing boat. Patrick O'Brian and C.S.Forrester suffe
...more
Craig
The thrill of a spy novel can be found and enjoyed in a somewhat meandering travelogue of the Frisian islands on Germany's coastline. I found the geography very compelling and constantly interrupted my reading to research maps of the area, the shoals, the islands and ports. Add to that the rich maritime lingo specifically in regards to sailing a one or two manned sea vehicle, and one finds a work enveloped in the sea with sparse spurts of adventure of the secretive spy world. But these are not a ...more
DROPPING OUT
It is hard to realize this was written over 100 years ago. Moreover, it is universally considered the first of the spy thriller genre. Consequently Childers had nothing upon which to model his plot, characters, etc.

And atmospheric! I could feel the chill of the autumn fog rolling off the North Sea, I could smell low tide, and I felt a constant tension building while reading mere dialogue between the two protagonists while simply steering their boat around the sand-bars.

Bottom line: Any and every
...more
Kathy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lee
"The Riddle of the Sands" is a wonderful spy novel. Childer's uses great character development to draw readers into the plot of the book. Any reader that enjoys suspense on the ocean's will enjoy childers' description of sailing in a small yacht in the North Sea. Carruthers, a clerk in the British Foreign Office is invited by an old college friend, Davies, to go sailing and duck hunting in the Baltic. Carruthers gets more than he bargained for when he discovers Davies true motive. In a fast pace ...more
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Robert Erskine Childers DSC,universally known as Erskine Childers,was the author of the influential novel The Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War. He was the son of British Orientalist scholar Robert Caesar Childers; the cousin of Hugh Chi ...more
More about Erskine Childers...
In the Ranks of the C.I.V. The Riddle of the Sands & In the Ranks of the C.I.V The Riddle of the Sands - With Audio (Oxford Bookworms Library) Three Classic Spy Novels The Riddle of the Sands (A Record of Secret Service): (Introductory Notes from MI5 and The National Archive)

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