Of the 5000 plus novels I must have read in my 80 years as a reader only one thriller gets the ultimate 5 -star accolade “Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers, published first in 1903. I just love that story of a couple of Edwardian yachtsmen who sail in their tiny ‘Dulcibella’ to the Friesian islands off the North German coast only to discover evidence that the Kaiser is planning to invade England. It’s a great read, not least because Childers had sailed up though the islands himself in a tiny boat, and on into the Baltic. The log of that intrepid cruise provided all the tang and colour to make readers feel they are aboard too, reefing sails, getting lost in the maze of lonely channels, running aground, and kedging off again on a rising tide. I’ve read it half a dozen times at least, and I’ll read it again. It’s better than a sailing holiday. Really. It never palls.

Back about 2000 I was poking about in a bookstall at the Southampton Boat Show when I saw a biography of the author [ “Erskine Childers” by Jim Ring; John Murray, 1996] and bought it because I vaguely knew that Childers had led an extraordinarily adventurous life which ended with his execution in 1922, by the Irish Government. How many men have written best-selling novels, been decorated for gallantry by the Royal Navy, run guns for the IRA , advised several Prime Ministers including Lloyd George, and Eamonn de Valera, and been shot as a traitor? So I bought the book, which at once became, and remains, my favourite biography of all the many thousands I must have read. Jim Ring, not a professional writer, became obsessed with Childers and his colourful life, and has painted a portrait worthy of the man. As a soldier, sailor, writer, patriot, airman, lover, politician, yachtsman, and man of principle Childers led the fullest life imaginable. John Buchan, who knew a bit about such things, said of Childers: “No revolution ever produced a nobler or purer spirit”. If you read The Riddle of the Sands first, then Jim Ring’s biography of its author, I bet you won’t forget either.

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