Maybe it's because author Sam McCarver is, as his cover blurb puts it, "a lifelong mystery and history buff," but I think I was hoping for a fresh, accurate angle on what had been turned into a slickly commercial blockbuster. Whatever I was hoping for, I don't think I got it.
The case of the title refers to a series of mysterious suicides in first-class cabin 13 of different White Star Lines ships. As the maiden voyage of the supervessel Titanic approaches in 1912, nervous White Star executives approach famous paranormal debunker Professor John Darnell in an effort to dispel rumors of a White Star curse. This brings me to my first complaint: Considering the suspicious circumstances of the "suicides," I think--even in 1912--that most people would have been quicker to suspect a human murderer than a ghostly one. It's not like these were tightly constructed locked-room puzzles in the John Dickson Carr tradition.
In order to catch the culprit, Darnell agrees to occupy Titanic's cabin 13. This should make things interesting, right? Unfortunately, my second (and overwhelming) complaint is that anything actually having to do with solving the mystery is almost boring. Darnell lives and works almost entirely in his head, so any scenes that could be called "action" are few and far between, and they usually involve Darnell's Chinese manservant being attacked. The bulk of what Darnell does in this book falls into two categories: falling in love with shipmate Penny Winters, and berating himself for falling in love with Penny Winters, who just might be a murderess, even though the author makes it very clear to the reader that Penny is not a murderess, so it's really okay if he falls in love with her, thus robbing the reader of any sense of suspense regarding Penny Winters and making the reader scream, "Just boink her already!!"
I don't want to mislead you into thinking that I hated this book. It was actually quite pleasant. It seems to me, though, that the book's flaws are the result of conflicting desires. McCarver obviously wanted to include a great degree of historical detail in his story. I'm certainly not qualified to comment on its accuracy, so I took it all at face value. But McCarver had a difficult time weaving it into the story, and I think that may be partially due to a desire (or perhaps external pressure?) to tell a story in blockbuster style. This brings me to my third complaint, which is that I felt I was continually being pulled out of McCarver's straightforward little mystery and plunked down in the middle of a less inspired version of Cameron's sweeping saga. Had McCarver spent more time developing his unique story before interjecting the known historical elements, I think it would have been a much more satisfying read. It's still worthwhile, though, and does provide a slightly different perspective on the famous tragedy at sea.
(adapted from a "Skullduggery" review)