Brian Jacques, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Penguin, 2001)

When I was growing up, I was one of the few young people I knew who did not read Brian Jacques. While everyone was devouring the first few books in his Redwall series, I just couldn't get excited about stories involving rats, rabbits, and other creatures I felt were insignificant. As an adult bookseller watching a new generation of children eagerly awaiting the next offering from Jacques, I was willing to admit I might have missed out on something special. So, when a copy of Castaways of the Flying Dutchman became available for review, I snatched it up thinking it was well past time for me to experience Brian Jacques.

At the start of Castaways of the Flying Dutchman a young, mute boy is saved from drowning by a cook who drags him from the sea and enslaves him aboard the ill-fated ship. A short while later, the boy in his turn rescues a black dog from starvation. Ultimately, the Flying Dutchman and all its crew meet their terrible fate, while the innocent boy and his dog are saved by an angel who sentences them to "Throughout the ages, roam this world, and wherever need is great, bring confidence and sympathy, help others to change their fate."

The title and the cover of this book are greatly misleading. Any prospective reader would assume they were about to embark on a thrilling sea adventure. Instead, after the initial chapters, the book quickly settles into a cozy children's mystery, with nothing to do with the sea or the legend of the Flying Dutchman. Indeed, the climax of the story occurs within the first 50 pages of the book, and by comparison the rest is distinctly unexciting.

The bulk of this story takes place almost three centuries after our heroes have been tossed free of the cursed vessel. The castaways have long since acquired names, voices, and the ability to communicate telepathically. Ben and his faithful dog Ned have arrived in the sleepy town of Chapelvale, where unknown trouble awaits them. From this point on the book is a typical children’s mystery as, along with several charming and good-hearted villagers, the immortal pair works to save the village by solving a riddle that is disappointingly contrived.

Absorbed at the beginning, from page 51 on I felt like I was counting down the pages, trying in vain to hurry my way through a plodding scavenger hunt. In the last few pages I had hoped to at least find the happy end to Ben and Ned’s lonely wandering, but alas, this book is the start of a series.

Not having read anything else by Brian Jacques, I cannot predict how fans of his previous books will feel about this tale. For my part, I must say that after reading Castaways of the Flying Dutchman I’m left asking the same question I did at age twelve: “What’s the big deal about Brian Jacques?”

[Christine Doiron]

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