Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

For our next book review in the Oceans 11 reading challenge, here's a few words from library patron & friend of abcreads Susan:

The Riddle of the Sands is said to be the first espionage/thriller novel. In 1903, 11 years before WWI, Erskine Childers felt compelled to awaken Britain to Germany's growing sea power and the potential for invasion, so Britain would organize effective naval defense. The book was effective, and triggered plans for better coastal defenses. Although Childers provided a key warning to protect Britain, he later supported the Irish cause and was executed for treason.

Charles Carruthers,working at the Foreign Office, receives a letter from acquaintance Arthur Davies, inviting him to travel on his yacht to hunt ducks in the Frisian islands off Germany. Carruthers expects a luxury cruise, but upon arrival finds he and Davies are the entire crew of the far-from-luxurious Dulcibella. He soon comes to respect Davies' seamanship, and the landscape melts his condescension.

As they explore "the sands", Davies confesses his ulterior motive for having Carruthers along....Carruthers can speak German. Davies is certain they must uncover a military plot against Britain based on the tidal sands of the Frisians.

The writing is relaxed and descriptive, and the story proceeds at a slow pace, enjoyable for readers who enjoy detailed settings and gradual plot buildup. The narrative includes and frequently references maps to describe in detail how Carruthers and Davies navigate the waterways. The late season (October) is an important factor in their quest, creating many challenges and the occasional advantage due to weather.

A few suspenseful scenes qualify the book as a thriller, but this is a story to savor at leisure, not a page-turner that keeps you up late to finish. Carruthers and Davies are on a quest for evidence to back up their hypothesis and solve an intellectual puzzle (what is the signifcance of the sands?). The wealth of nautical and historical detail will delight pre-WWI naval buffs.

No comments: