Raiders of the Lost Barque

Steven Duff

Billed as "an adventure story for young boaters" and as drawing inspiration from Arthur Ransome, Raiders of the Lost Barque takes place in Perry Sound on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay (Canada).

The story spans the summers of 1995 and 1996 and follows the adventures of two families of children, the Vermeers and the Hudsons, who are occasionally joined by a pair of boys from another family, the Wallaces. The book begins as the children's world is falling apart. Dramatic changes threaten their summer utopia of islands, water, boats, and friends. Over the course of the two years, normal summer activities of sailing, cruises, and picnics weave into their efforts to thwart the new menace in their midst – a corrupt businessman who builds ugly houses, drives loud boats, and generally disrespects their traditional quiet way of life.

Mr. Duff creates wonderful characters including an opera singer-neighbor, who swims among the islands every day belting out his sweet tenor, and the children's warm and adventurous Norwegian grandfather. He relates exciting adventures: a midnight cutting-out expedition, and a rescue at sea in a rising gale. He also captures many of the nuances of children enjoying their family's summer camp – recounting annual traditions, visiting favorite haunts, learning to run the boats, and the long and agonizing winter at school. The principle characters' devotion to traditional wooden craft mean that boats play a central role in the story, where they become characters in themselves.

Mr. Duff has some wonderful passages and images, such as: "When you open a cottage door for the first time each season, there is always a chill, as if winter left something of itself behind, and a thick and somehow expectant silence." That's a wonderful description of what it's like to return to a summer house after a winter's absence.

My only quibble is that Mr. Duff writes the story in the first person from the perspective of one of the Vermeer children. As a retired high school teacher, the author knows well how teenagers use the language, so his portrayal is accurate. I imagine that this style appeals to his target (young) audience, so I do not begrudge his decision. Having left my teenage years far behind, however, I found the slang, idioms, and grammar distracting.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it, particularly to "young boaters." Reading it also made me appreciate Arthur Ransome's accomplishment in creating such rich characters, lush landscapes, exciting adventures, and engaging prose. He is a tough act to follow, and Mr. Duff is brave and honest in recognizing Arthur Ransome as his literary mentor.

Raiders of the Lost Barque was published in 1999 by Trafford Publishing.

Reviewed by Jonathan M. Labaree, August, 2002

This article is ©2002 by Jonathan M. Labaree, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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