Long before Ian Fleming, or John Le Carré, or Len Deighton, or Tom Clancy, there was a writer named Erskine Childers, whose book, "The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service," quite literally began the entire genre of political espionage thrillers. First published in 1904, it remains what Le Carré has called "one of the great foundation stories of the contemporary novel of espionage and adventure with political teeth." It is the subject of this week's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review here.
It tells the story of a young man from the British Foreign Office who accepts an invitation from an old acquaintance to go yachting on the Baltic Sea. He is rather horrified to find that the "yacht" is actually a fairly decrepit sailboat, the "Dulcibella." But as the two are sailing in the waters of the North Sea, they stumble into a vast political plot - one which nearly costs them their lives. Through their own rather heroic efforts, they manage to avert a catastrophe that would (remember, this is 1904!) have changed the political map of Europe forever.
Is it dated? It's certainly a little slower than today's political thrillers. You won't find a new thrill on every page. But you will find classic adventure, some rather amazing physical and mental feats, and a deep love on the author's part for sailing in the treacherous waters and shifting sands of the North Sea. It is illustrated with the original maps and charts which Childers included for his readers to follow the action. After more than a century, "The Riddle of the Sands" remains a wonderful read. It has been reissued by Penguin Classics which has added an introduction by the author's great-grandson. There's an edition for the Amazon Kindle which has additional features exclusive to the electronic edition.
"The Riddle of the Sands" marks another entry in the Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge at the My Reader's Block blog. If you haven't checked out what everyone there is reading, I suggest you do so - you may discover some really great traditional mysteries.