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Extended Audio Sample The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service Audiobook, by Erskine Childers Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.53 out of 53.53 out of 53.53 out of 53.53 out of 53.53 out of 5 3.53 (70 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Erskine Childers Narrator: Simon Vance Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2008 ISBN: 9781455173204
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While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Widely recognized as the first modern spy thriller, this lone masterpiece by World War I Royal Navy officer Erskine Childers was written in 1903 as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses. It accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since. Praised for its nautical action and richly authentic background as much as for its suspenseful spycraft, The Riddle of the Sands is the brilliant forerunner to the realism of Graham Greene and John le Carré.

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Quotes & Awards

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

    Ian Fleming

  • “Eric Ambler fans will find this a fascinating antecedent.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Simon Vance lends a mature sound and considerable technique to his narration, making Childers’ seafaring not only apparent, but contagious.”

    AudioFile

  • The Riddle of the Sands has delighted generations of sailing aficionados and thriller readers with its nautical and political verisimilitude.”

    Booklist

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Andy | 2/20/2014

    " Hmm... Swallows and Amazons meets James Bond. I liked it, but it was over long on sailing description and short on action. Interesting, atmospheric and unique never-the-less. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Dermo | 2/20/2014

    " well I ploughed through the last hundred pages. gripping stuff. the narrator takes a bit of getting used to, as he's a stuffy, pretentious, obnoxious bastard for the first few chapters. after a while on the boat though, he mellows out. We don't see much of Davies' character until a good halfway through, and it's quite obvious that the main focus of the first half of the novel is the land/sea-scape, knowledge of which is pretty much vital to understanding the plot, and adds to the suspense built during the second half. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jeff Rostolder | 2/18/2014

    " A bit long winded and nautical, but a fairy interesting read "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Laura | 2/15/2014

    " I found this a really hard book to read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cyanide Bunny | 2/14/2014

    " definitely a book for sailing enthusiasts. first time i read this i was utterly confused. It made a lot more sense this time around "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Stephen Callahan | 2/14/2014

    " First time I read this book it was magical. The author (this was his only book) poured everything he knew about sailing and sands and tides into this espionage story. In fact I need to go read it again... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ian | 2/13/2014

    " More of a yachting novel than a spy novel, it is never less than interesting, but fails to carry quite the menace that would lift it into a real page-turner. Carruthers of the Foreign Office is summoned by a slight friend to join him yachting amongst the shallows off the north German coast. They find the Germans preparing facilities for a potential sea invasion of England. Childers is seen as remarkably prescient for imagining it ten years before the First World War, I see it more simply as being redolent of the times of empire-building and expansionism when countries had not reconciled themselves to their allotted share of territories. War was a commonplace hazard of a permanent soldiery. Germany wishing to invade us was not seen as quite the heinous act of aggression that we would view it in the light of later events. A good read, but more likely to inspire me to become Ben Ainslie than James Bond. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jldalquist | 2/10/2014

    " Starts out very strong--a tale of sailing and espionage on the North Sea prior to World War I, but gets extremely repetitive and the plot fails to spark interest about half way through the book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jensie | 2/9/2014

    " Written in 1903, 2nd spy novel (after Kim). Boats, North Sea, looming WWI tensions (at one point author says that war won't come for at least another 10 years), but driven by details of sailing and geography of Frisian coast and potential plots, not as much as by camaraderie between characters as I would like. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Kathy | 2/5/2014

    " I am AMAZED that this shows up in a list of the 100 best mystery novels of all time. The "plot" consists of the tale of two men sailing up and around the German coast pre-WWI, where there are innumerable sandy islands, sandy islets, and sandbars. Hence the name. But I felt I had experienced their sailing adventures in real time, all the while not understanding the plethora of sailing jargon used. Oh, well, I thought, some action has to come soon. There is a little action, and even a little love interest. So I hung on to the end, hoping for some resolution. There is none! We don't find out the secret of the mysterious Herr Dollmann, who is really a Mr. X from England, nor do we learn anything about the outcome of the love interest! It's all hushed up, we're told, to protect the identity of the traitor and his daughter. Waste. of. time. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Becky | 2/3/2014

    " i found this quite hard to read as it had a lot of sailing terms i wasn't familiar with, but it has a good storyline "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 James | 2/1/2014

    " I struggled with this one the first time I read it, but something drew me back to it and I read it a second time and loved it. It's slow going early on, but there's something timeless about it that really holds up, especially given that it's one of, if not the, first modern spy novels ever written. Just a couple of regular guys who find themselves in the right place to make a difference. And how did Childers foresee the threat Germany would become to England? "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Lauralyrics | 1/28/2014

    " I really liked the beginning, but after a while I got bogged down by my general boating ignorance and complete disinterest in the charts. (My God, are there are a lot of charts.) The book was written in 1900 and unfortunately some of it gets lost "in translation". But it has great characters (I *loved* Davies and his joy of jettisoning things on a whim) and the boating descriptions (what I could understand of them) made me positively YEARN to be on a boat. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathleen Wells | 1/26/2014

    " I read this about 2 years ago. Not my usual thing but I do like a book with maps. I got through it and can say I enjoyed it. Very interesting. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 thegift | 1/24/2014

    " thought this was already here: what was considered pop fiction, with no pretensions to lit greatness, is here remembered. it is more interesting in what it suggests of society at the time, how it was an original spy story, reflecting other 'imperilled britain' pulps/pop works from that era. very exact, extensive, recount of tides, sea passages, boats- all the mechanics to make the story realistic, also slows it down. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Stephen Callahan | 1/21/2014

    " First time I read this book it was magical. The author (this was his only book) poured everything he knew about sailing and sands and tides into this espionage story. In fact I need to go read it again... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Arvid Tomayko-Peters | 1/20/2014

    " really cool spy story / sailing adventure - don't remember it too much, but I liked it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 BobbiInBrooklyn | 1/18/2014

    " great adventure, great writing. yachting, spies, tidal channels, highwater marks. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 BobbiInBrooklyn | 1/16/2014

    " great adventure, great writing. yachting, spies, tidal channels, highwater marks. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jane Massy | 1/14/2014

    " Although the language is dated and some of the detailed yachting terms unknown to me, i loved it. I thought it remarkable in its prediction at a time when few would have expected the great war to unfold as it did. So sad that Childers was executed in the Irish Civil war - he would have been a great asset to the fledgling state. Even more sad that he was 'found' and arrested at the home of his cousin, long time associate in the fight for Irish Independence but opposer in the civil war, Robert Barton. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Matthew Jones | 1/11/2014

    " A well written but, to my decidedly un-nautical eyes, a rather uneventful adventureless story. Whilst our dashing and stiff upper lipped heroes were vividly portrayed I found the villains of the piece blurring into one fiendish, Teutonically bearded mass. The plot does seem to rest on one wildly implausible coincidence and sadly, having finished the book a week ago, the denouement escapes my recall. I expected a little more daring do and a little less kedging the erm... sou'westly bowsprit? "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Nele | 1/9/2014

    " To be honest, I only read half of it... not because I didn't like it, but because there was no time. Might consider re-reading it in the future... maybe. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Christian | 1/7/2014

    " The book is written in a very beautiful English, but the story is rather boring. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 BobbiInBrooklyn | 1/4/2014

    " great adventure, great writing. yachting, spies, tidal channels, highwater marks. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brackman1066 | 12/30/2013

    " I read this because I saw it in a list of early spy novels. I didn't realize it is also a naval adventure! Not exactly Patrick O'Brian, but still fun. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kaylee | 12/27/2013

    " Surprising mix of nautical terminology (dry), humor (sarcastic), and espionage (a hint of). Enjoyable, foresighted, but I'd hesitate to agree with its tag of "classic". "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Andy | 12/20/2013

    " Hmm... Swallows and Amazons meets James Bond. I liked it, but it was over long on sailing description and short on action. Interesting, atmospheric and unique never-the-less. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Becky | 12/14/2013

    " i found this quite hard to read as it had a lot of sailing terms i wasn't familiar with, but it has a good storyline "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Dad | 11/26/2013

    " Fabulous spy thriller. Listening to the free audio version from librevox, the narrator is fabulous as well. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kathleen Wells | 11/24/2013

    " I read this about 2 years ago. Not my usual thing but I do like a book with maps. I got through it and can say I enjoyed it. Very interesting. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Susan Jo Grassi | 11/24/2013

    " I was very interested inreading this book. I had heard about it for years and enjoyed it very much. It was a little slow going in places then picked up and held my interst. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Arvid Tomayko-Peters | 11/17/2013

    " really cool spy story / sailing adventure - don't remember it too much, but I liked it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ed | 9/5/2013

    " The very first spy story set in German Friesian islands. Written in around 1910 and started fear of German invasion in Britain. Really atmospheric and first of the genre. Currently re-reading. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Deaddad | 8/10/2013

    " Old-fashioned in every sense spy adventure but an enjoyable and mildly diverting read. I now also know where the Frisian Isles are.... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Dan F | 6/21/2013

    " A good read but you sort have to stick with it. Good historical significance. Reads like a real life spy novel such as the 'Man from Intrepid'. Also read 'the Celtic Ring' for the same flavor. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Nele | 4/2/2013

    " To be honest, I only read half of it... not because I didn't like it, but because there was no time. Might consider re-reading it in the future... maybe. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Mike Roach | 2/27/2013

    " Often billed as the first spy novel, unless you are REALLY interested in yachting,the Frisian Islands, yachting, early 20th century European naval policy, yachting, spies, and yachting, then this probably isn't for you. Tedious at times and unreadable during the rest, this book hasn't aged well. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Becky Snow | 2/18/2013

    " Although the style is somewhat old-fashioned because of when this book was written, I found the narrative fascinating, both for the sailing experience and for the espionage elements. Many consider this the first spy novel, but it also had historical impact in the run-up to WWI. Well worth the read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Becky Snow | 1/25/2013

    " Although the style is somewhat old-fashioned because of when this book was written, I found the narrative fascinating, both for the sailing experience and for the espionage elements. Many consider this the first spy novel, but it also had historical impact in the run-up to WWI. Well worth the read. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Molly | 1/10/2013

    " Sand. More sand. This book was not for me. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sandi | 10/13/2012

    " This book is probably really awesome if you really really like sailing and want to know everything about it. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Liz M | 9/10/2012

    " An unsuspenseful mystery that depended far too much on esoteric, uninteresting, nautical knowledge. In short, it didn't float my boat. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Katrina Gonsalves | 9/2/2012

    " If you can make it through the first 180 oages, the rest reads like a James Bond novel. And this was all before WW1. Carruthers and Davies do deserve a 'Well Done.' "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Heidi | 8/23/2012

    " Intriguing and promising early spy thriller that was ultimately unsatisfying. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Stephen Callahan | 7/24/2012

    " First time I read this book it was magical. The author (this was his only book) poured everything he knew about sailing and sands and tides into this espionage story. In fact I need to go read it again... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Braden | 3/18/2012

    " This book was fantastic. If Dixon's The Hardy Boys was a great work of literature, this would be it. So much mystery, plot development, reflection. I was sucked in to the story within the first couple chapters and lost sleep trying to figure out the plot before I read it. I recommend. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sandi | 2/25/2012

    " This book is probably really awesome if you really really like sailing and want to know everything about it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Alaric | 12/22/2011

    " One of the first true spy novels, and written by a man who was later executed for treason. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tim Addison | 10/19/2011

    " Not bad, picked it up off feedbooks for the eReader. Mystery spy type story set in pre-World War One North Sea. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Pete Jarvis | 6/18/2011

    " This is a truly fabulous read. The original spy story... Even more interesting to note that this book caused Britain to create a North Sea fleet to protect England from such a potential event. The British subsequently shot the author for being an Irish independence collaborator... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Danielroffle | 5/20/2011

    " A superior spy novel, exciting and evocative. There is also a hell of a lot in it about sailing, and it gets technical pretty fast, but somehow I find those passages soothing rather than boring (can't say I actually retained what they taught me tho). "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Neil | 4/30/2011

    " Great! Just don't read the back of the penguin classics edition - it gives away the whole story! And it's supposed to be a mystery! Would have Lo edits en more if it wasn't for that. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Susan | 1/16/2011

    " I was very interested inreading this book. I had heard about it for years and enjoyed it very much. It was a little slow going in places then picked up and held my interst. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cyanide | 1/14/2011

    " definitely a book for sailing enthusiasts. first time i read this i was utterly confused. It made a lot more sense this time around "

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About the Author

Erskine Childers (1870–1922) was an Irish nationalist and novelist. He was the editor of the Cambridge Review and the author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands, which the Observer listed as one of the “100 Greatest Novels of All Time.” It is considered by many to be the first spy novel.

About the Narrator

Simon Vance (a.k.a. Robert Whitfield) is an award-winning actor and an AudioFile Golden Voice with fifty-eight Earphones Awards. He has won thirteen prestigious Audie Awards and was Booklist’s very first Voice of Choice in 2008. He has narrated more than eight hundred audiobooks over almost thirty years, beginning when he was a radio newsreader for the BBC in London.