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The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service (Penguin Popular Classics) Paperback – 26 Jan 1995
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Childers' lone masterpiece, "The Riddle of the Sands", considered the first modern spy thriller, is recognizable as the brilliant forerunner of the realism of Graham Greene and John le Carre. Its unique flavor comes from its fine characterization, richly authentic background of inshore sailing and vivid evocation of the late 1890s - an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and intrigue that was soon to lead to war.
About the Author
Erskine Childers was born in Ireland in 1870 of Anglo-Irish parents. Educated at Cambridge, he worked at the House of Commons before volunteering at the outbreak of the South African War. In 1910 Childers resigned his post in the Commons to work for the Irish cause and later did reconnaissance work during WWI. After the war he settled in Ireland and joined the Republican Army at the establishment of the Free State. He was amongst those arrested and shot in the civil war that followed.
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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 into spies and foil a dastardly plan during their summer holiday.
While noted as an early espionage thriller, this is markedly better written than many in the genre (honourable exclusions, of course, to writers like le Carré and Mick Herron) and the characterisation is especially interesting when it comes to Davies: a maverick and marginalised man who was rejected from the Navy and now spends his time sailing in a broken-down boat and who knows the coastline like the proverbial back of his hand. The clash between him and the narrator, Carruthers, a Foreign Office man with fluent German (handy, that!) animates the first half of the book until Carruthers’ sulky discontent turns to respect and excitement.
The nautical stuff is *very* detailed – hence the loss of a star and a half, as there’s much guff about tides and sand banks and winds. All the same, an interesting portrait of a simpler time when patriotism and imperial ideology were unquestioned and unequivocably ‘a good thing’.
It seems that there are maps in some editions. Not in this edition.
Overall not an enjoyable read.
I haven't finished trying to read the book. In fact, I only got as far as chapter TWO. I gave in. It was a chore - not a pleasure. I shall, maybe, buy another edition someday.
Whole passages of text are repeated. (Check out the Amazon preview of this edition on page 3).
Many pages of the text are printed in German.
It is missing the maps and charts which should be included with the text.
This edition looks like it is translated back to English from a foreign language edition. The language is to my mind incomprehensible compared to the original text.
I've returned mine. Save yourself the frustration. Just get an original untranslated edition instead.
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