Valerie Martin,
The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
(Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2014)

Though a number of reasonable explanations have been advanced in recent years, the fate of those lost on the Mary Celeste remains an enduring mystery.

The Mary Celeste was a merchant brigantine found unmanned and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in the winter of 1872. Missing were the captain, his wife and child, and the crew of the vessel. An admiralty inquiry advanced several theories for what happened, including foul play, none of which provided a satisfactory answer.

Valerie Martin has used this mystery to weave an intriguing tale around real-life characters involved in the case. Her focus is on the Cobbs and Briggs families, both intricately connected and equally familiar with losses at sea, and with Arthur Conan Doyle, author and advocate of Spiritualism.

Sarah Elizabeth Cobb married Benjamin Briggs, captain of the Mary Celeste, and part of the story is told from her viewpoint. Martin adds a fictional sister, Hannah Cobb, who becomes a medium, and her career adds another feature of the novel. Early in his career, Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, penned a controversial fictional tale that is responsible for many false elements of the Mary Celeste legend.

There are other memorable characters, most notably the skeptical journalist Phoebe Grant, and Jeremiah Babin, who seeks answers for his own loss through patronage of Violet Petra/Hannah Cobb.

If you're looking for a fictional resolution to the mystery, it's not my intent here to dissuade you. I found this journey into a long-gone world satisfactory and absorbing. The characters are well drawn, the plot intriguing, the depictions of life at sea realistic.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
John Lindermuth

25 January 2014

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