“Canada is weird. Trust me. It pretends it isn’t, but underneath, this country is bat-crap crazy.” Fifteen-year-old Dylan Maples has encountered his fair share of mysteries across the country – and his fair share of interesting and interested girls, he’ll have you know. But when his parents drag him to Bathurst, New Brunswick, to visit a former neighbour, he’s convinced there’s nowhere more boring. Which is perhaps why his parents chose it. After the sudden death of his best friend, Bomber, Dylan retreated from school, hockey, friends, life; he needs a change of scenery. What he gets is a new mystery and a new love interest.
Dylan meets 16-year-old Antonine on Youghall Beach and together they witness the Phantom of Fire, the famed burning ghost ship of Chaleur Bay, which Antonine had once seen as a child. She can’t help feeling there is something she is supposed to find out about the ship; she and Dylan start asking questions and following leads. A piece of burnt wood in her recently deceased father’s shed is the clue they need to unravel a mystery that goes far beyond ghosts and inconclusive scientific theories – instead involving a right-wing politician’s less-than-stellar past.
Phantom of Fire is the fifth instalment in Nimbus’s recently rebooted Dylan Maples Adventure series (which Penguin Books Canada debuted in 1999). While readers don’t have to go back to the first four to understand the latest, they will have to endure some rehashing of past loves and the parent-child dynamic. Only when Dylan and Antonine begin investigating does Phantom of Fire really get going. The ghost ship is fascinating and the smarmy politician is oh-so-current. Dylan’s new tendency to see and speak with Bomber at home and on vacation is an insightful depiction of the grieving process. But the novel has some stilted language, too much of a focus on the family’s host – who goes on at length about politics – and an overly convenient ending.
Still, Phantom of Fire is a well-researched and enlightening story about a mysterious bit of Canadian folklore that will certainly have readers considering a future trip to Bathurst, New Brunswick.