Sunday, August 20, 2023

A spy novel

Enjoyed re-reading this essay about Erskine Childers and his only novel:
The period of the First World War was a golden age for the spy novel. There’s nothing like a really cataclysmic global conflict to stir any halfway attentive author.

And perhaps the pick of the literary crop was 1903’s The Riddle of the Sands, by the Anglo-Irish writer, soldier, and politician Erskine Childers. The novel mixes some gentle satire about the graded snobberies of the Edwardian class system with a seafaring adventure involving a couple of topping British chaps going after German spies in the Baltic. It’s not only a riveting tale in itself, but so cogent in its account of the state of Britain’s maritime defenses that it prompted the Admiralty to hurriedly install a series of new coastal gun batteries. Childers’s book was an instant bestseller, and still ticks over today. No less a judge than Ken Follett has called it “the first modern thriller.” If you want a really gripping read, with plenty of white-knuckle action, some energetically sustained period idiom, and the mass of verifiable detail later found in the James Bond novels, The Riddle is for you.

Ironically, about the one person seemingly unmoved by the book’s success was Childers himself. Aged 33 at the time of its publication, he never wrote another novel....

I've also enjoyed the movie with Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Simon MacCorkindale. It can be found at Amazon, and on Amazon Prime.

Christopher Sandford, "The spy novelist who became an Irish nationalist," The Spectator, Nov. 23, 2022.

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