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The Riddle of the Sands (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – December 10, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 134 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“This is a book of great renown. . . . Its beautifully sustained atmosphere . . . adds poetry, and . . . real mystery.” —Ian Fleming

From the Inside Flap

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 literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (December 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is often referred to as the first spy novel, and it is not wrong. However, to appreciate the novel, you have to know beforehand several things. But, don't worry, that is not much.
The story is narrated by an English gentleman Currthuers, who received an unexpected invitation of duck shooting from an old friend Davies. Being tired of his neglected position in "society," he accepts it to go to the North Sea only to find that he is involved in a mystery, or "the riddle of the Sands." His friend claims there's something in the air, something hiding behind the misty coast of Germany. But how can they prove it?
As a story, "The Riddle of the Sands" is far from perfect. It is full of authentic descriptions of local landscapes (the author actually cruised his yacht there), but at the same time frequent reference to the geographical data and nautical terms are a bit wearisome to readers, and moreover, the narrator often refers us to the maps in the appendix. Those things only slow down the action of the novel, and actually the book sometimes has to go through lull.
But, wait a while. The story gets gradually faster, and as the adventure of the heroes slowly gets near to the core of the plot, the tale becomes more and more gripping. Though characters sometimes are just more than cardboard (and especially female part is poorly done), your patience will be rewarded.
It is well-known that Sherlock Holmes in "His Last Bow" turns a spy for his country, and says "There's an east wind coming." The meaning of what Holmes says is clear to the comtemporary people, and Childers, a politician, also wrote his book not as an amusement but as a warning to England about the coming threat of Germany, and actually "The Riddles of the Sands" was written about 10 years before WW1 began.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In deciding whether to read this novel, there are some things you should know:

Firstly, it is beautifully written. It is a classic piece of prose literature. Long descriptive passages evoke a wonderful atmosphere and sense of place. The characterization is sharp and accurate, and the dialogue is convincing.

Secondly, this is not an action-packed spy thriller. The story unfolds slowly and is somewhat linear, without the shock twists and turns that would be expected from a contemporary spy story. Having said that, you are better reading the book without knowing exactly what the answer to the 'riddle' is. Many of the reviews here on Amazon contain the spoiler and the blurb on the back of the Penguin Red Classics edition has it too. You have been warned.

Next, there is a lot about boats and the sea. If you are any kind of boat enthusiast, you will love this book. If you are not, or are positively averse to the ocean, then you will find the lengthy descriptions of tacking and sounding, reefing and kedging, to be rather wearisome. This is essentially the adventures of two Englishmen in a boat.

The opening chapters are extremely funny at times, as the hero discovers that his yachting holiday isn't going to be quite the luxury excursion he envisaged. The first half of the book is a delightful comedy of manners, but the mood gradually changes as the tension builds.

It is a book of its time - the end of the nineteenth century and the build up to the Great War. As such, it gives remarkable insights into the culture and attitudes of the period. The reference in the first sentence to 'black faces' may bring a few modern readers up short.
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Format: Paperback
I bought The Riddle of the Sands to use in an History essay for university where I was looking at how the spy was portrayed before World War I. As one of the more popular titles from that era of 'invasion literature,' Childer's work certainly fit the bill. It is the story of two men sailing around the Frisian Islands trying to uncover a German plot to invade the north of England. That's basically it in the way of plot. It was Childer's way of calling attention to what he believed where Britain's insufficient North Sea defenses, and the real possibility of a German naval invasion. He succeeded in that endeavour and the North Sea defenses were eventually strengthed, which you could view either as a testament to the power of this novel, or to the 'great underlying problems and increasing pessimism' felt throughout Europe (to quote Ruth Henig), in the lead up to World War I.

Whichever view you take, the novel has a depth of characterisation that is quite remarkable for a first attempt at fiction. Davies and Carruthers are representative of the two poles of English class/social structure at the time, with the inarticulate, yet perceptive everyman Davies teaming up with well-mannered and intellectually capable Carruthers, figurative of the way that all aspects of British society would need to come together to face the coming invasion. However, the fact that this was Childers' first and only novel begins to show in his pacing. This is hardly the 'cliff-hanger' that Milt Bearden claims it to be in his brief 5-page introduction. However, Childers' purpose was not to write a thrilling page turner, but a warning against German invasion. To really enjoy this novel, you have to read it in that context, otherwise you'll be thinking 'what's the big deal?
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