Killer Nashville’s Book of the Day / Wednesday, September 19, 2012 / “The Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers.

Why I chose this book:

THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS / Erskine Childers (1903) – Google for info, notably

While in my “classics” state of mind before going back to some contemporary fare, “The Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers (1903) is considered by many to be the first influential British spy novel. It was very popular prior to World War I and, when published, it was an instant bestseller. It is a thriller about two men who are on a “yachting holiday” who come upon a fleet of German warships assembling to invade England. The story might sound dull and possibly overused, but that’s only because there have been so many dull and overused stories based upon the concept. Go with the original. From a writer’s perspective, the reality of the book is heightened by the details. It’s a great study just to see how Childers makes what I would probably write as boring nautical terms so captivating. Interestingly, this is Childers one and only novel. A little history: how does fiction influence reality? Answer: A lot. We can all probably think of several examples. In this case, none other than Winston Churchill himself said that “The Riddle of the Sands” was the major reason that the British decided to establish three new naval bases (Rosyth, Scapa Flow, and Invergordon) in the North Sea to protect itself from possible invasion from Germany. When the war broke out, writer Childers, because of his military knowledge and imagination was given a naval seat in Parliament! What eventually happened to Childers, the English patriot who helped England prepare for and defend itself against Germany? He was executed by a firing squad in 1922 as a traitor by the British government for his part in the evolving belief that Ireland should be self-ruling. Interestingly enough, his son would later become the fourth President of Ireland. Before his execution (which hastily happened before his appeal had a chance to be ruled upon), Childers shook hands with each of the members of the firing squad. When it was time for them to pull the trigger, he remarked as his last words, “Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.” Certainly a colorful character and a wonderful writer. “The Riddle of the Sands” is definitely something that any “invasion” thriller writer should be familiar with.

From Amazon:

“While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers—who served in the Royal Navy during World War I—as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, The Riddle of the Sandsaccomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft.”

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join ourFacebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville


About Clay Stafford

Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker ( and founder of Killer Nashville ( As a writer himself, he has over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages. Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” ( and the music CD “XO” ( A champion of writers, Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” throughout “the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13)
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