Monday, June 7, 2010

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

Source: Librivox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 12 hr, 24 min
Reader: Gesine

The book: In 1903, the German Empire had grown into a political and military power in Europe and was looking to expand its influence around the world. Britain, meanwhile, was confident in its separation from mainland Europe and its strong navy to defend itself from any enemies. Childers, an Englishman, wrote Riddle of the Sands to wake his countrymen up from their complacency and recognize the threat of the German navy. The story revolves around two Englishmen, based on Childers himself, who discover a German plot as they cruise in a small sailboat around the waters off the Baltic Sea coast.

Although the novel is a direct influence on later spy novels, I found much of the book not the exciting, suspense-filled yarn like those of John le Carre or Frederick Forsyth. Instead, the first part of the book reads like a travelogue of the Baltic coast mixed with a introduction to nautical terms. This part of the book highlights its difficulty as an audiobook; it relies heavily on the reader following the boat's progress on a map provided in the print editions. Later on in the novel, Childers delivers suspense and intrigue as the two friends creep through fog to spy on the German plans and find their earlier explorations pay off with their knowledge of high-tide paths through the treacherous estuaries.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: Gesine speaks in a pleasant British alto. She reads in a measured pace, with only a little variation. It's not the type of performance that enhances the text, but in my experience, this type of no-frills reading fades allows the listener to pay attention to the words while the reader fades into the background. As I mention above, much of the book relies on reference to a set of maps. The LibriVox catalog page includes a link to these maps so listeners aren't completely left in the dark, but the constant referral back to maps may make this an unwelcome book for some listeners who prefer to listen untethered from a screen.

1 comment:

Mike Hobart said...

While it may be a landmark in the history of the spy story, I don't believe you can call it a "thriller" by any definition.