________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013


The Phantom's Gold.

Eric Murphy.
Markham, ON: Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant Books, 2013.
196 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-77086-266-1.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Kay Weisman.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



William was shaken awake and knew something bad was happening. The pickup his father was driving pounded down the moonlit embankment. His father was slumped over the steering wheel and his chest was blaring the horn. They flew over the retaining wall.

For that moment of weightlessness he thought he was still asleep and dreaming. The headlights bounced off the ocean's surface till they ploughed into the oncoming waves. His seatbelt jerked him in place. Water snaked in around his calves.

His chest hurt, but it was all that dark water that made William scream, "Dad!"

Waves reached over the hood, hissing steam off the motor. His dad's sou'wester washed over his knees. His father hung over the steering wheel, his face twisted towards him. Fear coated William's tongue with the taste of copper. He reached for his dad just as the headlights' spill died underwater. The incoming tide rode higher up the windshield. It flooded the cab to his chest. They had to get out or drown.

The year following his father's death from a heart attack has been difficult for 13-year-old William McCoy. William and his father had been driving to Lunenburg, NS, for a sailing race with William's grandfather. Not only did they miss the race, but William now feels estranged from his mother who seems to be moving on with a new man, Brad. In desperation, William buys a one-way bus ticket from Toronto to Nova Scotia, hoping to spend time with his grandparents.

      Unfortunately, William's grandparents are not as he remembers them. Grandad, Daniel McCoy, has sunk into a deep depression, and Granny is away in Halifax trying to secure a new mortgage to save their home. William does find a sympathetic ear in his great uncle Emmett and cousin Harley, but matters are complicated when William begins seeing the ghost of his great grandfather, rum-runner Bill "The Real" McCoy, who has a message in a riddle for his son Daniel.

      Murphy attempts much in this middle grade novel-an exploration of grief, a history of Canadian prohibition, a sailing manual, and a ghostly mystery-and he partially succeeds. William's sense of what he needs to do in order to come to terms with his father's death is spot on, and his determination to help his grandparents work through their own issues is admirable. As well, avid sailors will relish the play-by-play descriptions of navigating the Atlantic waters around Nova Scotia.

      The background information about Canadian prohibition and the rum-running trade is less successful as much of it is delivered through direct dialog (in which one character tells William exactly what he needs to know) rather than having this knowledge revealed in natural story events. Character development is also somewhat lacking; arch-villain Robert Trenton's sole purpose seems to be the total destruction of William's family, while Bill McCoy's ghost alternates between offering useful information and annoyingly vague riddles.

      The Phantom's Gold should be popular with sailing buffs, especially those who enjoyed Monica Graham's Bluenose or Robin Stevenson's Dead in the Water (Orca, 2008).


Kay Weisman, a long time librarian and reviewer, now writes "Information Matters" for School Library Monthly and works as a youth librarian at West Vancouver Memorial Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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