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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

There are more things in Heaven and Earth

Ghost of Mary Celeste By Valerie Martin

In which Arthur Conan Doyle turns out to be a bit of a pompous ass

Stars: 4.5/5

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

****Contains Spoilers****

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a layered story incorporating the disappearance of the aforementioned ship with a number of other elements of the nineteenth century, like the rise of spiritualism. In one of the greatest maritime mysteries, the Mary Celeste was found in 1872, adrift off the coast of Portugal with no signs of struggle and its cargo of alcohol intact. Nothing was ever determine, it was as if they all just vanished into thin air. The real story along with Martin’s novel has an eeriness about it, made more so for me as I was reading it when the news broke of the missing Malaysian flight. Martin’s storytelling though is really what had me hooked.

Martin has taken this mystery and given life to the Mary Celeste’s doomed captain and his wife, Benjamin and Sarah Briggs, along with the story of the seafaring Briggs clan, who lost quite a lot to the oceans they sailed. And we get nineteenth century mediums, journalists, and even Arthur Conan Doyle, before and after the success of his great detective, it is all good fun. The books is told through various viewpoints and generally follows a chronological order. We get another fated Captain and his wife (a Briggs) to start the story, the diary of the future Sarah Briggs, Conan Doyle on his sea voyage to Africa, a female journalist investigating a spiritualist camp in Fitchburg. Eventually we see the spiritualist herself, Violet Petra, who is the sister of Sarah Briggs, and her interaction with Conan Doyle, who sends her, and us, on one more tempestuous sea journey.

Martin does not try to explain what happened to the Mary Celeste; we have Sarah’s final entries but they are only so illuminating. Instead we are left to feel the loss that Violet experienced with the disappearance of yet important person in her life. Martin is sly in her treatment of our spiritualist; is Violet really just a great observer (like Patrick Jane on The Mentalist) or does she indeed see the dead? Are her trances the work of her power or is she suffering from mental problems that culminate in a final breakdown? Martin leaves the reader to decide for themselves; going back through the book, the reader can find evidence to support any and all conclusions.

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