Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"A ripping yarn"

The five books site asks people to recommend five books on a subject about which they are knowledgeable. Today the recommendations are about "The best books on Spies — a Five Books interview" with Ben Macintyre, a British columnist on "history, espionage, art, politics and foreign affairs." His five choices are all British, two non-fiction and three fictions. I've read four of them and like his recommendations. One that I read long ago and feel like pulling off the shelf and reading again is The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. Macintyre:
.... It’s a ripping yarn, it’s just so exciting. I first read it when I was about ten, and I’ve re-read it periodically since and it combines two of the things that I love most. It’s a great thriller, but it’s also brilliant about sailing. And it was written tremendously early – it was published in 1903. He really invented a new way of writing about international affairs.

It was incredibly influential. It had a profound political effect because it pointed up the fears about Britain being unprepared for war with Germany. The essential plot is about a man who stumbles across a German plan to invade Britain and it woke up a generation to the fears of German militarism. It’s terrifically old-fashioned in lots of ways: the main character is called Carruthers. ....

...[I]t combines derring-do, open air and a kind of lovely, thumping sense of duty that is very British as well. It sets the tone for an awful lot of what follows. I don’t think we’d have had James Bond in quite the same way if we hadn’t had Carruthers first.
First published in 1903 the book can be downloaded free for Kindle in a nicely formatted edition.  The Amazon description of the book:
The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service is a patriotic British 1903 novel by Erskine Childers. It is a novel that "owes a lot to the wonderful adventure novels of writers like Rider Haggard, that were a staple of Victorian Britain"; perhaps more significantly, it was a spy novel that "established a formula that included a mass of verifiable detail, which gave authenticity to the story – the same ploy that would be used so well by John Buchan, Ian Fleming, John le Carré and many others." Ken Follett called it "the first modern thriller."