The Mystery

The MysteryThe Mystery by Stewart Edward White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, if the aim of Stewart Edward White was to create a bonafide mystery, he certainly succeeded. I finished the book and still wonder what the mystery actually was. We get some clues, but you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Sound mysterious?

Standard S.E.W. fare here, not that that’s bad; but he does have some deficiencies and if you can get past those, the story isn’t half bad, although, as alluded to above, the mystery remains somewhat of a mystery. Somewhat.

The story starts aboard the U.S.S. cruiser Wolverine, and we are immediately hit with the names of the conversants aboard. Not that we know who these people are; we know that they are crew members, but of what capacity is a mystery until later. No, that isn’t the mystery, not in the sense of the title. It’s a mystery as to why White didn’t identify these men right away. Might have worked in a movie, but in a book we just get the dialogue sans descriptions. But, the story picks up interest fairly quickly and eventually we do find out who these guys are.

The Wolverine finds a derelict ship on the high seas-derelict in the sense that it is uninhabited, but upon boarding, there is evidence that there was someone aboard quite recently. The backdrop to this is a volcano flexing its muscles in the background. People disappearing, volcano erupting-all kinds of drama starts to unfold. Eventually they find a man cast adrift, and after bringing him back to his senses, he begins to tell a tale that will make up most of the story. But the story, as told by this guy is so melodramatic that you can’t imagine any human being orally speaking in such a way. Writing-wise, it’s very good, but it’s not oral dialogue. Did I mention this was standard S.E.W. fare? He did the same thing in Arizona Nights. That’s what he does. You can use your imagination though. Just picture him telling his tale to the crew, but the book is his mind, and not subject to standard American oral dialogue. White reminds you now and then that he is speaking in this manner, but…ignore it.

What else do we have that identifies this as a Stewart Edward White novel? Racial stereotypes? Check. Keep in mind though, that this is a turn of the century book, and those stereotypes were likely much more common than they are today. Then again, maybe they aren’t stereotypes at all; maybe they’re just these specific characters. You be the judge.

Then there are the moment where you need to suspend common sense. But then, that kind of defect isn’t unique to just White. We have a reporter posing as a 1st mate and apparently, a crack seaman. Not bad for urban newshound. How he put one over on the ornery experienced captain is anybody’s guess.

We also have the men frolicking among the poisonous fumes of the volcano. What could go wrong? Apparently, nothing but a little illness. Nothing some fresh air didn’t cure. Okay. And what carpenters they were. These guys could build a city if they wanted to, even though they didn’t know what they were doing. But they did know.

Here’s the most unbelievable part, unless of course, White just left this type of discourse out of the story. There are no women, and not even a discussion of women in the story. These are sailors, and not of the highest order. They seemed more interested in their tobacco stash than anything else. Again, maybe White just didn’t want to go there. I did. We all would. Of course, if all these guys were gay, then White definitely would have left this out of a turn of the century story.

We never really find out what the “mystery” is. Some kind of wacky light-or fire-or something that killed everybody that got close to it. I don’t consider this a spoiler, because I don’t really know what it is myself, and I read the book. Overall though, as I said, a pretty good story, and other than the accounts of the rescued, the dialogue between the men is normal. Just a thing you get around with White. It’s a three star, I actually liked the story and was able to get around the above described deficiencies.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>