CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013
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.
on this title or this review, send mail to email@example.com.