The Phantom’s Gold (2013), by Eric Murphy

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.1.

The Phantom’s Gold

Murphy-Phantom Gold“William was shaken awake and knew something bad was happening” (1). The Phantom’s Gold open dramatically, and readers might think William is having a dream. But he isn’t: his life is turned upside down when his father dies in an accident that he survives. Traumatized by the event, and his mother’s attempts to move on, he runs away to his grandparents in Nova Scotia, only to find that they, too, are dealing with the death of their beloved son. This is the set-up for a fascinating novel of family and life on the sea, of history and ghosts and mending broken ties. Eric Murphy must be an avid and knowledgeable sailor, for he introduces a number of nautical terms seamlessly into his story. His characters exude the love of the sea that tradition might demand, but that is nonetheless very real to those who live a seafaring life.

William soon becomes involved in Lunenburg activities, most notably the sailing race his grandfather usually wins. This year, however, Granddad is too wrapped up in his grief to compete. With the family sail-making business at risk, William, his great-uncle Emmett and his cousin Harley take on the challenge. Crewing for his relatives, William grows into his nautical heritage at the same time as he solves a family mystery: the location of the lost fortune of his ancestor, the “Real McCoy.” Murphy’s McCoy is entirely fictional, but intertwined with the legend of William “Bill” McCoy, the American rum-runner during Prohibition. This connection between fictional and real characters is artfully constructed; readers learn not only about sailing, but also a bit about 1920s Canadian history. There is so much right about this novel—seamanship, history, narrative—that I would highly recommend it to any young readers, regardless of gender or usual interests.

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