Sunday, May 30, 2010

357. The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers

History: Published in 1903, this book is an early example of the espionage novel.
The book enjoyed immense popularity in the years before World War I and was extremely influential. As Childers's biographer Andrew Boyle noted: "For the next ten years Childers's book remained the most powerful contribution of any English writer to the debate on Britain's alleged military unpreparedness." Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason that the Admiralty decided to establish some important naval bases.
Plot: Carruthers, a minor official in the Foreign Office is contacted by an acquaintance, Davies, asking him to join in a yachting holiday in the German Frisian islands. Carruthers agrees, as his other plans for a holiday have fallen through. He arrives to find that Davies has a small sailing boat, not the comfortable crewed yacht that he expected. Davies gradually reveals that he suspects that the Germans are undertaking something sinister in the area, based on his belief that he was nearly wrecked by a German yacht luring him into a shoal in rough weather. Carruthers and Davies spend some time exploring the shallow tidal waters of the area, moving closer to the mysterious site where there is a rumoured secret treasure recovery project in progress. They are watched by a German navy patrol boat, which warns them away from the area.
Taking advantage of a thick fog, Davies navigates them covertly through the complicated sandbanks in a small boat to investigate the site. They find that it is actually the centre of a German plan to invade England. The invasion plan is master-minded by a renegade Englishman, but Davies has fallen in love with his daughter and he does not want to hurt her by revealing her father's treason. In the end, Davies and Carruthers confront the English spy for Germany, attempt to flee with him back to England (and his dgtr), but he escapes and they never find him again.
Review: Containing many realistic 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.
It was one of the early invasion novels which predicted war with Germany and called for British preparedness.
Opening Line: “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.”
Closing Line: “From that point our personal history is of no concern to the outside world, and here, therefore, I bring this narrative to an end.”
Quotes: "By God, I’ll give you five minutes to be off to England and be damned to you, or else to be locked up for spies!"
Rating: Not good.

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