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THE GHOST PIRATES William Hope Hodgson 1st TP

British Columbia, Ashcroft, Canada. Ash-Tree Press, 2003. 1st trade paperback edition of this relatively obscure Hodgson seafaring/horror novella (135 pages) first published in 1909. Intro by A. F. Kidd & afterword by Douglas C. Anderson. Fine.

'I was peering down. The thing seemed to be rising out of the depths. It was taking shape. As I realised what the shape was, a queer, cold funk took me. '"See," said Tammy. "It's just like the shadow of a ship!" 'And it was. The shadow of a ship rising out of the unexplored immensity beneath our keel.'

The Mortzestus, bound from ’Frisco, has the reputation of being unlucky; some even say that she is haunted. 'Too many shadows' is how one sailor—the only returning crew member from her most recent voyage—puts it; and soon the narrator, Jessop, understands all too well what he means. Shadowy figures seem to come and go over the side of the ship, and lurk high in the rigging, endangering the lives of the crew. One man disappears without trace; others are killed; and Jessop realises that the Mortzestus and those aboard her have entered a twilight world of shadows and silences, cut off from the rest of humanity, where they are relentlessly pursued by the great ghost ships beneath them; ships which are growing clearer and larger with each passing day.

WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON (1877–1918) spent his early years (unhappily) at sea; and this experience coloured much of his very best work, which rings with authority and authenticity. The Ghost Pirates was first published in 1909, as part of a series including The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig' and The House on the Borderland, and over the years has been overshadowed by the latter novel, as well as the epic The Night Land. However, as A. F. Kidd argues in her introduction, The Ghost Pirates is a little masterpiece: a 'small and almost perfectly formed gem' written by an author who, at his best, 'can make your flesh creep like a master'.