The first two decades of the twentieth century saw the appearance of half a dozen significant espionage novels of varying literary worth. The first is Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), set on the frontier of British India. The novel deals in part with the Great Game, the struggle between the British and Russian empires for control of Central Asia. The novel’s engaging Anglo-Indian protagonist Kimball “Kim” O’Hara is an orphan who becomes involved in several aspects of the Great Game. Kim’s growth to adulthood allows Kipling, who was born on the subcontinent, to explore a colorful and engaging cross-section of contemporary Indian society.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the prospect of war involving two or more of the great European powers fueled a popular genre known as the future war novel. Most examples of the genre have long since been forgotten. However, one—The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service (1903)—is regarded as a classic of both espionage and sailing fiction. Written by Erskine Childers, the novel is set in the shallow waters off the North Sea coast of Germany and concerns the discovery by two Englishmen, Davies and Carruthers, that the Germans are preparing for a seaborne invasion of Great Britain.
Although Childers intended a serious warning about Britain’s vulnerability, he wrote the novel as if it were an adventure, stressing action over character. Polish-born English...
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