The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

Written by Valerie Martin
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Inspired by a 19th-century naval mystery, Valerie Martin has structured an intricate, suspenseful novel about a famous “ghost” ship. The Mary Celeste set sail in November of 1872 from New York harbor. Weeks later, the ship was discovered, derelict, off the coast of Gibraltar. No sign of Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife and daughter, or any of the crew was ever found. Why they should abandon the ship, when it was perfectly fit to sail and still carried its original cargo, has confounded historians for over a hundred years.

Martin has blended a variety of historical sources and legends to hint at possible explanations for that ill-fated voyage. She first provides terrifying glimpses into the mayhem aboard another vessel that sinks after a collision off Cape Fear. Back ashore, time is spent with two seafaring families, the Briggs and Cobbs, and we learn about the lives, loves, and risks taken by 19th-century mariners. The characters are believable and well developed, the historical elements well suited. Yet another section of the book skips forward in time to Arthur Conan Doyle, early in his career and in need of money, setting out for the Dark Continent. He too is fascinated by the story of the Mary Celeste and is inspired to write a story about her. Finally, we meet other characters who are either convinced of or opposed to the fad of holding séances to contact the dead.

The collection of “personal recollections” and documents are interwoven, adding substance to the puzzling tale and building suspense as the author brings the reader ever closer to the climax of the Mary Celeste’s mysterious voyage. Is there a final solution offered? Not really. The action stops before a firm resolution. It is left up to readers to come up with their own solution. Frustrating to some but, for those who love seafaring adventures and a good yarn, this will be a nice addition to their library.