Friday, February 11, 2011
Erskine Childers was born in London in 1870 and educated at Cambridge; he married an American, fell in love with Ireland and served with distinction on the English side during World War I. Later he joined the Irish Republican Army, running guns and fighting against the British — offenses for which he was arrested, sentenced and swiftly executed in the Irish Civil War of 1922.
His was a life of tragic gallantry and compromised loyalties, issues very much at the heart of his sole novel, "The Riddle of the Sands," first published in 1903 and newly reissued, enshrined indeed, with the shiny black spine of a Penguin Classic and as a new edition from Adlard Coles Nautical, complete with maps and photos of places of the novel's locales. The story features two young Englishmen who, while sailing among the treacherous waters and shifting sands of the Frisian Islands, stumble across secret German plans to invade England.
"The Riddle of the Sands" has been described by John le Carré as the foundation stone of the contemporary novel of espionage and the creation of an archetype — the smart, resourceful loner who finds himself in danger but manages to cope. The book does indeed predict not only Le Carré's Smiley but also John Buchan's Richard Hannay, the best heroes of Eric Ambler's wonderful books … and even James Bond.