Bill Jessome,
Maritime Mysteries & the
Ghosts Who Surround Us

(Nimbus, 1999)

More Maritime Mysteries:
Everyone Has a Story

(Nimbus, 2001)

When traveling, I often seek out a book on regional ghost stories to satisfy my curiosity about the supernatural. After examining numerous offerings during a trip to Nova Scotia, I picked up Maritime Mysteries, a slim volume by actor/journalist Bill Jessome. A few days later, I went back to that store and bought the sequel.

For a good portion of my holiday in Cape Breton, I read about the sailors, soldiers, pirates, lovers, waiting wives and other restless spirits who reportedly linger in Canada's Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.) It's interesting, atmospheric stuff.

But it could have been better.

Jessome first began collecting these stories for Maritime Mysteries, a television series he hosted for nine years. Unfortunately, that style of reporting shows clearly in these books. The tales are often very brief, sound bites instead of substance, and Jessome leaves out far too much detail along the way. In some cases, the stories don't tell readers where in the Maritimes the incidents took place. In others, Jessome leaves out the dates, as if readers won't care whether a story originated in the 1700s or the 1990s.

Some are so vague, they appear to be obvious urban legends. One story, about a man who has a premonition of his own death, which turns out to be his twin brother's, is repeated in both books with only minor differences. There are even a few stories about murder and betrayal that, while interesting, lack any hint of the supernatural, so I question their inclusion in these books.

The author seems to exhibit a lack of curiosity about many of these tales. He relates some ghost stories without delving very deeply into the background of the haunted location or the possible identity of the spirit in question. It seems he often just passes on stories exactly as told to him, without bothering to do even simple research.

So why did I go out and buy the second volume? It's simple. Jessome is not a very good investigator into the supernatural, nor is he much of a researcher. But he is a storyteller, and the stories themselves are worth reading. Jessome has an easygoing, relaxed style of writing that makes it seem more like a pleasant conversation than a text. The Maritime Mysteries books are an enjoyable read that, despite a lack of much depth, offer good insight into the nature and character of the Canadian Maritimes.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 5 January 2002

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