CM . . . .
Volume V Number 4 . . . . October 16, 1998
Mary turned toward the sea. Only rarely did ships come ashore on the Tombstones. They might wreck there - she pulled a hand free and pointed to the east - or there, or there, or there. So the people followed them. Whenever a ship was caught on the lee shore, the whole village -women and children and men - tracked it along the coast. For days they wandered with it, back and forth, back again. And they prayed, John, they knelt and prayed that the poor ship would meet its end before it got to the next village, before it met the crowd that had set out from there with their own axes and picks.The 1799 maiden voyage of sea-mad John Spencer, 14, ends abruptly when his merchant father's ship, the Isle of Skye, wrecks on the hazardous coast of Cornwall. Using false beacons, the Pendennis wreckers lure ships to their destruction and live off the booty from the shattered ships. Apparently the sole survivor, John narrowly escapes execution by the wreckers thanks to Simon Mawgan who saves him and offers him protection at his home, Galilee. There John meets Mary, Mawgan's teenage niece, who becomes his accomplice.
When John discovers that his father has survived the wreck, he can trust no one but Mary to help him search. John suspects the affable but mysterious Simon, "friendly one moment, almost vicious the next," of being the wreckers' chief, but Mary believes "someone else, someone secret" is the leader of the wreckers and is determined to catch the culprit. With another imminent wreck distracting the villagers, John and Mary track down John's father, finding him imprisoned and in chains. John undertakes the perilous rescue, braving black-hearted villains intent on killing him, supernatural and ghostly forces, vile and stormy weather, and perfidious clergymen.
Inspired by stories like Treasure Island, Lawrence includes the best elements of an adventure story in his first novel: an appealing protagonist, formidable antagonists, an action-packed plot with plenty of twists, a sinister setting and effective conflict. John narrates the tale and develops as a likable, although imperfect, protagonist who must deal with both recognizable adversaries and questionable allies. Fast-paced action and realistic dialogue move the story smartly to a dramatic conclusion that should entertain and captivate young readers. In an "Author's Note," Lawrence provides additional information based on his research about the wreckers and suggestions for further reading.
Darleen Golke is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.