First published in 1950 this is the sixth book in the series.
This time the Mannering/Trent clan are off on a Mediterranean cruise, so the ship The Viking Star hosts much of the excitement. They visit quite a few exotic places like Madeira and French Morocco, but in the end their main adventure is on a mysterious Greek island.
Normally these books have an obvious baddie or baddies from early on (Jo-Jo is clearly a bad guy even if we later discover he’s bad for a different reason, while in Castle, Valley, Sea and Mountain we meet individuals who are immediately given bad-guy status,) but the enemy in this book is more of a devious, smooth individual. We know he’s not nice from the outset but there’s a bit of an is-he-isn’t-he feeling about him. I’m talking about Mr Eppy, of course, Lucian’s uncle. He brings along a few brawny types to help him at the end, he obviously is the brains of the operation even if he needs children to stumble onto treasure so he can steal the glory.
Lucian or, as the children call him, Lucy-Ann, is a boy of roughly similar age to Jack and Philip whom they meet on the cruise ship. Jack immediately dubs him Brer Rabbit, as in addition to being tall and gangly he has the mouth of a rabbit. He has sticky-out front teeth and a sloping chin (a bit like Maureen Little from Malory Towers by the sound of it.)
He’s a friendly boy and he immediately latches on to the four children rather to their dismay, as he’s a bit of a cry-baby in their opinion. He has his uses, he speaks various local languages and so can interpret for them when they take trips off the ship, but he does have a habit of running his mouth off to his aunt and uncle.
The adventure starts after Lucy-Ann buys Philip a ship in a bottle for his birthday and they find a tiny treasure map inside. It’s in Greek, though, and they have to be rather clever about getting people to translate it. Unfortunately Mr Eppy’s also rather clever and manages to find out rather too much about the map for their liking before he disappears from the ship. Mrs Mannering is then called away to look after Aunt Polly who has fallen ill and good old Bill joins them in her place. When the ship has engine trouble the children manage to persuade Bill to take them treasure-hunting using their map. Being the bright sort of children they are they of course have no trouble finding the treasure, at least not until Mr Eppy and his associates appear.
Philip picks up a monkey on one of their trips off the boat, and they call him Micky as that’s the sound he makes when he chatters away. Micky latches on to Philip when he saves him from a cruel group of local children who are throwing stones at him.Unfortunately we don’t find out what happens to Micky after the adventure, he doesn’t come home with Philip anyway.
This isn’t one of my favourite books in the series, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the fact it’s not set in one place; in the other books so far we’ve had a good time to settle into a location and get to know it. The cruise ship doesn’t have the same appeal as say Craggy Tops or Puffin Island. I do like the whole thing of finding a treasure map in the ship in a bottle, and the underground treasure-hunting part of the story is good, though it hasn’t stuck in my mind like some other stories with underground tunnels and treasures have. My favourite part of the story is probably them finding the map and then figuring out what to do with it; trying to translate it and yet keep it hidden too.
The pattern changes again here; rather than Bill turning up to save the children he turns up half-way through and walks them right into the danger.
Apart from Lucian’s similarity to Maureen Little, the whole treasure map portion reminds me of The Treasure Hunters. In both books they can’t make head nor tail of the map at first. In Ship that’s because it’s faded and in Greek, while in The Treasure Hunters it’s because the writing’s so old it looks like JREAFURE not TREASURE. The Treasure Hunters’ map gets torn in two, and they stick it on one of the ceilings in the dollhouse in Susan’s room. In Ship, they cut the map into four pieces, and each child finds a clever place to hide it; like sticking it to the back of a drawer.
Another big change for the family situation comes about at the end of this book. Lucy-Ann pipes up that Bill and Allie should get married so that Allie can keep an eye on him and the children (and stop them getting into adventures.) Bill laughs at first, and then asks Allie if she thinks it’s a good idea. She says yes, and Bob’s your uncle, they’re getting married. As a child it never struck me as odd at all. As an adult I can see it’s unusual, but it doesn’t feel unnatural still, as you get the impression Bill and Allie are already more than friends, and perhaps have talked about it before, despite Allie saying “I’m surprised we’ve never thought of it before.” But anyway, the book was written for children, so my adult opinion of it isn’t worth much!