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CR3 #78: Treachery at Sharpnose Point by Jeremy Seal

The full title of this book is Treachery at Sharpnose Point: Unraveling the Mystery of the Caldonia's Final Voyage. And that is a fairly accurate description of what this book is about.

The author, Jeremy Seal, begins by discovering an antique masthead planted in the ground at a quaint Cornish cemetery. He finds that it's a memorial to several sailors who died during a shipwreck in 1842. Seal is intrigued with the possible story behind this monument, and decided to do some research to find out who these men were, what might have happened to them, and how they came to be buried in this particular graveyard. In his research he uncovers the history of shipwrecks along the coasts of Cornwall, and the effect these wrecks had on the locals--plundering the battered wrecks of ships was a village effort, especially due to food shortages and high taxes. Seal starts to suspect that perhaps the people of Morwenstow had more to do with the wreck of the Caledonia than noted in the historical record. After all, rumors persisted for decades that some of the people along the country's coasts were less helpful (to the point of blatantly destructive) to ships that found themselves in trouble. The author tracks both the men on the ship and some of the villagers--their larger-than-life vicar, for example--to try and understand what happened.

Unfortunately, this book isn't quite sure what it wants to be. In some ways it is pure non-fiction. The author not only writes about the researched facts of the case, he also details his pursuit of them, and his feelings about what he finds. It's straddling the line between scholarly non-fiction and memoir in a strange but not unworkable way. However, on the other hand there are fiction chapters interwoven in with the factual chapters. In these sections, Seal writes a tale about the men who sailed on the Caledonia's final voyage, and tries to imagine what brought them to their doom. It's a weird combination of fact and complete fiction, and I think some might find it rather confusing. I wish the author had chosen either fact or historical fiction and then stuck to his plan.

On the whole, not a bad book but not one of the better ones in its genre.

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