Nader Elhefnawy's Reviews > The Riddle of the Sands

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
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M 50x66
's review
Sep 30, 2015

it was ok

Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands is famous as the first 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 novel itself, which I found to be a letdown. The plot is very cleverly constructed in parts (and, incidentally, does substantiate the claim of critics that the book is foundational to the spy genre), and meticulously researched and detailed, but the book as a whole is overlong, slow-paced and short on action, and the presentation of the characters and setting aren't nearly intriguing enough in themselves to compensate for this. Riddle is also as much a sailing story as it is a spy story, and the nautical detail gets so thick in places that in places it becomes hard for anyone not an expert on the subject to follow what is happening (and often, simply tedious).

The result was that it was a trudge to get to the end of the book. Where pre-World War I classics of spy fiction are concerned, I found Rudyard Kipling's Kim, and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes, to be far more satisfying reads.
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