SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Parnassus Book Reviews

"Ghost Sea" by Ferenc Mate
A Review by Mary Guss


November 13, 2007
Tuesday AM

jpg Ghost Sea

Ketchikan, Alaska - You can't miss with this book -- it has a compelling mixture of mystery, Native culture and sailing adventure going for it, with romance and characters thrown in. The Native culture that figures prominently in the story is the Kwakiutl Nation of Canada. When I put down "Ghost Sea" I headed immediatly to Wickipedia, histories and mythologies of the Kwakiutl and anthologies of Native culture to see if what I had just finished reading could really be true. It was. Fact is every bit as wonderful as fiction here. I learned about the Kwakiutls' rich and fascinating culture and mythology (though at the time the story takes place it is in conflict with the government busily trying to put a stop to the expressions of that culture -- particularly the potlatches). For that eye-opening education alone the book is well worth the reading.

But there is much more. The main character identifies himself on business cards as ""Captain S.V. Dugger.The ketch Terrence Jordan. Denman Street Docks. Coastal transport. Anything. Anywhere" -- sort of a latter-day Palladin. He sails out of Vancouver, BC, and the time is the early 1920's. Things are still rather wild on the British Columbia coast and, being on a small sailing vessel, Dugger and his steady companion Nello are very close to that wildness. Dugger is a person with a past; one who relates far better to those on the margins of society or entirely beyond it -- and aren't those are the most interesting characters to read about anyway?

In "Ghost Sea" Dugger is hired by her husband to go in pursuit of Katherine Hay ("Kate"). Kate has been kidnapped from her husband''s yacht by a Kwakiutl warrior, who also took the sacred masks which Hay had been collecting from the Natives. The chase is filled with detailed descriptions of the sailing, the treacherous waters through which the Terrence Jordan sails (Mate has obviously done his homework on this as well) and the treacherous people encountered along the way. The story is told in the first person by Dugger, and is interspersed with diary entries from Kate -- so you understand the abduction and chase from two very different perspectives.

Much in the story -- both the people and the action -- is not what it first seems (you may find yourself flipping back to earlier pages repeatedly, as I did, as more is revealed). Mate writes in spare almost poetic language, often with just a passing comment to alert you to the way things really are or to what is really happening. You will want to read quickly, to see how various perils turn out -- but it is wise to pay attention to the details. You will be rewarded with a very satisfactory conclusion.

This book stands alone as a grand yarn. But the notes on the book jacket indicate that the author is off sailing in the South Pacific, gathering material for the next book to feature Dugger and Nello. "Ghost Sea" was published in 2006; hopefully it will not be a long wait for Mate's next novel.


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