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Saturday, February 05, 2022

Ghost Ship: An Intriguing Account of An Unsolved Maritime Mystery

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Back in November, I published a Top Ten Tuesday post about my macabre love for stories about maritime disasters. Lark recommended Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew by Brian Hicks as one I might enjoy. Lark never steers me wrong, so I eagerly sought out a copy of the book. I'd heard of the Mary Celeste, vaguely, but really didn't know her story, which goes a little something like this:

Originally named Amazon, the Mary Celeste was a 100-foot long brigantine built in Nova Scotia in 1860-61. "A simple but handsome sailing ship" (19), she was designed to carry cargo and be manned by a small crew. Some believe the craft was cursed from the start as she seemed to have more than the usual number of mishaps over the course of her lifetime. Bedeviled or not, the ship became widely known in 1872. Rechristened as Mary Celeste in 1869, it was chartered in 1870 by a German businessman to carry 1700 barrels of industrial alcohol from New York City to Genoa, Italy. Captain Benjamin Briggs, who would be at the helm, brought his wife and their 2-year-old daughter along on the journey. Seven crewmen were also aboard when the craft left New York Harbor on November 5. About a month later, the ship was spotted floating aimlessly in the middle of the North Atlantic by the crew of the Dei Gratia. No one was steering the craft. Nor was anyone on board. Such "ghost ships" were seen fairly frequently on the high seas for a variety of reasons. What made this one different was that no one who had been on board was ever heard from again. A variety of strange things—like the fact that all of the men's foul weather gear, which would have been worn if they abandoned ship in a vicious storm, was still on the Mary Celeste—gave rise to theories of every kind. Had there been a mutiny on board? Did pirates descend on the ship, killing everyone in sight? Was it all an elaborate insurance scam? Could it have been aliens? Sea monsters? A Bermuda Triangle-ish disappearance? What really occurred to those ten doomed souls?

Ghost Ship is a fascinating book about an intriguing unsolved mystery. Hicks offers a compelling, well-researched account of the incident, including both the known facts and the fictions that grew out of the strange tale. His emphasis on the ship's captain and his seafaring family makes the story especially intimate and personal. I also thought the sections about how the tale of the Mary Celeste changed over the years and became part of supernatural/Bermuda Triangle/alien lore were especially interesting. Because of all these elements and more, I found Ghost Ship to be an engrossing, well-told tale that kept me eagerly turning pages. 

(Readalikes: I've read a lot of books about maritime disasters, but never one about a real mysterious, unsolved maritime mystery, so I'm not sure what to compare this one to. Any ideas?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. That sounds like such a good read! I love that kind of real-life mystery reading and I suppose that's why I liked The Cold Vanish so much, I like the possibility that something very weird is going on.

  2. Wasn't this a great read? I found it completely fascinating. :)

  3. What an intriguing story! I have only read one book on a similar topic and it was for a CYBILS award.

  4. This sounds really interesting. My husband loves to sail. It's his passion. I wonder if he'd like reading a book like this.

  5. Ghost Ship sounds interesting. I can't imagine what happened to the sailors. And I love a real life mystery!

  6. Ooh the Mary Celeste is always one that's intrigued me, this sounds like a fantastic read!

  7. This sounds amazing! I'm adding to my TBR!

  8. Oh this sounds interesting! I watched a documentary at some point about the Mary Celeste and found it fascinating but it was a bit disjointed so I think the book would be way better!

  9. Real life mysteries at sea fascinate me. I wonder if we'll ever find out what happened in cases like this. (Probably highly unlikely, but still... I wonder.)

  10. This does sound interesting and being Canadian, even more so. Great review Susan.


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