Mysteries From the Depths

Petworth LibraryStaff Picks

Mysteries From the Depths

Seafaring historical fiction

“My course is set for an uncharted sea.” - Dante Alighieri 

The ocean has been an infinite and undeniable source of fascination. This hypnotic collection of maritime mysteries reflects some of the most perilous and tragic periods in history; readers will encounter yarns of legendary shipwrecks, bloodshed and possession, and the hope of redemption. Chart a course for lands unknown and grab your investigator’s cap, you’ve got some sleuthing to do!

The Terror by Dan Simmons 
In 1846, nearly 150 men vanished. The Franklin Expedition was to be the first of its kind; two steam-powered vessels searching for the elusive Northwest Passage. The crew of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus -- including Captain Franklin and his second-in-command Frances Crozier, surgeon Harry Goodsir, and the enigmatic “Lady Silence”-- fights for survival against arctic climates and perpetual nightfall, diminishing supplies, and the haunting presence of “the thing.” Is the enemy out there in the darkness, or are they on board? Hugo award-winning Simmons economically plays with chronology and perspective; he reframes the disastrous voyages as a chilling multi-narrative work of supernatural horror.

The Deep by Alma Katsu 
Annie Hebley, a Titanic survivor, has no memory of what transpired during the 1912 fateful crossing. She hazily recalls diving off of the bow into the cold murky waters, but nothing more. Four years later in Southampton, she heeds the call to serve as a nurse on the Britannic (sister of the Titanic), which is outfitted as a wartime hospital ship. To her surprise she encounters Mark Fletcher, a fellow survivor now a soldier, and her memories come flooding back. What feelings, secrets, and spirits will be released? Katsu delivers a prismatic retelling of history; she oscillates between sails and narrators (aside from Annie, we hear the voices of an occultist, socialite, prize-fighting boxer, and other passengers). Painstakingly researched, The Deep is an eerie genre-bending tale on the power of love, loss, and sacrifice.  

A Decline in Prophets: A Rowland Sinclair Mystery by Sulari Gentill 
The RMS Aquitania is the epitome of opulence; guests enjoy immaculate cabins and champagne toasts while touring the wonders of the Western Hemisphere. It’s all very civilized until…a body has been found. Considered a murder suspect, who’s left to prove his innocence but the Australian billionaire turned detective Rowland “Rowly” Sinclair? During the journey, Sinclair consorts with an amusing cast of characters (and suspects) such as a retired mystic, Theosophical Society devotees, clergymen, bohemians, and an undiscovered actor named Archibald Leach. In this second book in the delightful Rowland Sinclair series, Gentill sets witty banter and intrigue against the backdrop of a turbulent 1932; history buffs will appreciate newspaper headlines and advertisements from the period. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 
This impeccably researched novel from Pulitzer Prize-winner Egan opens with twelve-year-old Anna Kerrigan questioning the desertion of her “bagman” father Eddie. Years later during WWII, Anna provides for her family by repairing battleships as the first female diver in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She inadvertently comes across the one man who may have the answers behind her father’s disappearance: nightclub owner and gangster Dexter Styles. Looking for clues, she unknowingly plunges into the dangerous underworld of crime and seduction. Egan possesses the knowledge of language and landscape of the 1930s and 40s, producing three vivid portraits of compelling and reckless characters and their fused destinies. 

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
“He was eleven years old that night when, green as he could be about the world, he climbed aboard the first and only ship of his life.” Set in 1953, this novel follows a young boy from Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as he embarks on a solitary transoceanic voyage bound for London. During the 21-day sojourn the impressionable child, along with his friends Ramadhin and Cassius, witness things beyond their understanding. Voyeurism and vice leads them to a handcuffed prisoner; this discovery will forever cast a shadow upon the boys and alter their collective fate. In unassuming yet stirring prose the award-winning Ondaatje presents a coming-of-age story about the repercussions of exploration and the transformative nature of childhood.