“He loved the sea, he loved a boat, he loved a woman,
Some would say he loved wrongly or too much—or both.”
Ghost Sea is a wild chiaroscuro of raging storms and dense coastal mists set on the coast of British Columbia. S.V.Dugger, captain of the ketch Terrance Jordan, is hired to pursue Kwakiutl warriors to recover tribal masks they have stolen from a collector of ancient artifacts. Set shortly after World War II, the story is not only about tracking sacred masks—perhaps it is not much about tracking sacred masks—for the warriors have also taken the collector’s wife, Kate, who is Dugger’s lover. It is her husband who commissioned Dugger and who accompanies him on this foray. The storms and deep fogs through which Dugger navigates are not only marine in nature.
This is a great story. It has all the ingredients an adventure should have: excitement, danger, romance. The narrative is strong and the dialogue is true. The story moves at rapid pace towards an incomparable climax. But Ghost Sea is not just a seagoing Indiana Jones tale. The author is a scholar of the Kwakiutl nation, and the story is through and through a story of the Kwakiutl people. Máté opens most chapters with quotations from Franz Boas’ ethnological studies of the Kwakiutl. He weaves extensive history into his narration, and introduces yet more through Dugger’s first mate, Nello, who is part Kwakiutl. He does all this without a break in the nonstop action of the tale. What adds even more to the storytelling is Máté´s thorough knowledge of sailing ships and the sea. He shares his love of both in passages that can only be described as poetry. Ghost Sea is a beautifully written intellectual thriller. I would rank it alongside Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Nautical Chart.