When I’m not sailing on the MV Explorer, I like to read nautical fiction - novels and mysteries set on board ocean liners. And if a shipboard library is part of the story, so much the better.
To be sure, there are plenty of fun, non-fiction books set on ocean liners. A couple of my favorites are Innocents Abroad Too: Journeys Around the World on Semester at Sea (2008) by Michael Pearson and The Only Way to Cross (1978) by John Maxtone-Graham.
But today's post is all about the fiction.
The Luck of the Bodkins (1935) by P G Wodehouse. I’m a loyal Wodehouse fan and this is one of my favorites. “This is Wodehouse afloat – a voyage of pure delight.” Set on the S. S. Atlantic as it crosses from Southampton to New York, a movie mogul, a ladies hockey team, 2 Tennyson brothers (but neither the right Tennyson), an actress traveling with an alligator, and a sassy steward make for an engaging plot.
Santa Cruise: A Holiday Mystery at Sea (2006) by Mary Higgins Clark. A mystery set on a cruise ship at Christmas? Of course, I read it. A collection of charity donors are honored with a Santa Cruise in the Caribbean, not knowing two criminals were smuggled on board in Miami in order to escape the US. Plenty of nautical language like cabin, deck, captain, medical clinic on lower deck, bow, stern remind me of the MV Explorer.
Set Sail for Murder (2007) by Carolyn Hart. The cruise up the Baltic to Saint Petersburg, Copenhagen, and Tallinn, is the setting for this cozy mystery. Jimmy Lennox is worried that one of his wife’s stepchildren is trying to murder her, so he calls up his old friend Henrie O to help protect her. We read about ship life and port highlights, but, alas, there's no mention of a shipboard library.
But the best is yet to come. I discovered the eight shipboard mysteries by Conrad Allen packed with political history, shipboard life, class distinctions, clothing descriptions, historical events, and best of all, real ships. For me, this author is the captain of shipboard mysteries.
Murder on the Lusitania (1999). Set in August 1907 on the first sailing of the RMS Lusitania from Liverpool to New York City, George Dillman is a yacht-builder-turned-Pinkerton-detective hired by Cunard to protect the passengers on this inaugural crossing. Passengers are speculating about the possibility of taking the Blue Riband speed record back from the Germans for the fastest transatlantic crossing. George blends in with the first-class passengers and gets to know them before one of the journalists is found murdered.
Murder on the Mauretania (2000). "The Mauretania has 25 boilers, 192 furnaces, and a storage capacity for
6000 tons of coal. That may sound like a lot, but then we use up 1000
tons of coal a day.” Set in November 1907 on the first sailing of the Mauretania from Liverpool to New York City, George Dillman is back as the ship’s detective and this time he is joined by his girlfriend and co-detective Genevieve Masefield. Genevieve had helped solve a mystery on the Lusitania in August. This time, the ship is carrying millions of dollars in gold bars. Max Hirsch is a silver thief who is sweeping through the 2nd-class cabins and then goes missing during a violent storm.
Murder on the Minnesota (2002). Set in November 1908, George and Genevieve take a leave from their Cunard detective jobs to sail on the SS Minnesota of James Hill’s Great Northern Steamship Company. The purser is a friend of George and asks him to help solve a smuggling mystery during a crossing of the Pacific to China. When the obnoxious missionary Father Slattery is murdered in his cabin, they have even more work to do. The ship is described in detail – 37 electric winches! And the ship has a library with a copy of Grove’s dictionary of music in its collection but no Shanghai business directory.
Murder on the Caronia (2003). The RMS Caronia was a British ocean liner that first sailed in 1905, served as an armed merchant cruiser during WWI, and was scrapped in 1933. The novel takes place in 1908, early in her career. George and Genevieve are serving as detectives for Cunard and are asked to solve 2 murders – one on the ship during their voyage and one on land prior to the voyage.
Murder on the Marmora (2004). The Marmora was a Peninsular and Oriental (P and O) vessel built in 1903 and became an auxiliary cruiser during WWI. The novel takes place in December 1908 on a voyage over Christmas from Tilbury, England to Port Said, Egypt. George and Genevieve are serving as detectives, but this time for P and O, not Cunard. The Duke and Duchess of Fife (Princess Louise) and their children are on board and everyone wants to see them, take a photo of them, cook for them. The purser is not as helpful as usual, but in the end George and Genevieve recover the stolen property, uncover the murderer, and are married by the captain.
Murder on the Salsette (2005). The SS Salsette was torpedoed during WWI in July 1917. The novel takes place in May 1909 on a voyage crossing the Arabian Sea from Bombay (Mumbai), India to Aden, Yemen. George and Genevieve are serving as detectives for P and O when an ugly murder takes place during a time when England holds colonial rule over India.
Murder on the Oceanic (2006). The RMS Oceanic was built in 1899 as a transatlantic ocean liner for the White Star Line and was the largest in the world for two years. At the outbreak of WWI, she was commissioned into the service of the Royal Navy and ran aground while patrolling the Shetlands. We learn that White Star Line has moved from Liverpool to Southampton because it is deeper, has double high tides, and is closer to London and France. The novel takes place in March 1910 on a voyage crossing from Southampton to Cherbourg to Queenstown to NYC. J. P. Morgan, American banker and owner of White Star Line, boards in Cherbourg carrying treasures he purchased in France. George and Genevieve are serving as detectives when Morgan’s bodyguard is murdered and the art is stolen. I especially like the library description: “It was a well-stocked room of medium size with leather sofas and matching armchairs. At one end was a long table with a number of chairs around it. Hundreds of books lined the walls.”
Murder on the Celtic (2007). The RMS Celtic was built in 1901 as a transatlantic ocean liner for the White Star Line. She was commissioned into military service at the outbreak of WWI. The novel takes place in 1910 crossing east from NYC with the famous Brit Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on board. George and Genevieve help to return the stolen book to Sir Arthur and solve a murder. The library is mentioned 5 times but there is no description.
Most of the Conrad Allen titles are available at our local public library, but I purchased used copies and donated them to - where else? - the MV Explorer browsing library on Christmas Day!
Be sure to tell me if you discover some nautical fiction!
Yours in armchair sailing,