The Ship That Never Was by Mickey Spillane (1982)
Fast moving story.
Zaftig girls and plenty of sex...
Wait. I thought this was a Mickey Spillane book. Oh. It's a Mickey Spillane Young Adult book.
The Ship That Never Was is the second of two YA books that Spillane published, both featuring Larry Damar and Josh Toomey, two friends who like to sail the waters near Josh's Caribbean island home. Their ages are never stated but they appear to be about twelve or thirteen years old. In the previous book, The Day the Sea Rolled Back, the sea around Peolle Island went out -- and stayed out, giving the boys a chance to search for a treasure that was supposed to be hidden under the tropical waters.
In this second book, the boys had been lazily sailing for about an hour when they spotted what looked like and old wreck on the open sea. Coming closer, they see that it is an old -- very old -- strange-looking boat and in it is an old man, dehydrated and nearly dead. The boat turns out to be a longboat, a type that had been used as a utility boat for British galleons centuries ago. The longboat was constructed in a way that had been abandoned many years ago and, despite the real possibility that the boat was probably built over 200 years before, it was in impossibly good condition. The name painted on the boat was H.M.S. TIGER. Stranger still was the old man who was on the boat, who spoke an unknown language and was completely unfamiliar with the modern world.
Towing the longboat back to Josh's home, where the boy's fathers awaited them, they soon found out about the the TIGER. It had been built in England in the late 18th century and its construction had been overseen by a man who was recognized as the finest shipwright in the country. But the ship seemed cursed. Numerous accidents and several deaths delayed the ship's construction and the ship soon got a reputation as a jinx. It's trial run was supposed to last three months, but the ship limped back into port after only one month -- its crew sick and injured. Cannons had blown up, water casks that leaked, forcing the men to live on rainwater, food had spoiled, the ships caulking had begun to leak, a sudden squall had strangely ripped the sails apart. Superstition about the ship grew and spread throughout England. The government was afraid to destroy the ship and crews refused to sail her. Finally the ship was repaired and fully outfitted, then was pushed out to sea with no one on board, fated to sail the Atlantic as a ghost ship until it would inevitably sink. The ship was never heard from again. Yet here was the ship's longboat. How did it get here and what had happened to the TIGER?
The man they rescued soon regained his health and slowly they learned his incredible story through drawings and pantomime. He came from a small island where his people, the descendants of the exiled royal court of the European country of Grandau survived hidden from the world. The royal line still continued but the population of the island was drastically shrinking. The old man had found the longboat and decided to take it out and reach the outside world, hoping that the royal documents he had with him would help place his people back in their exiled home. What the old man did not know was that, since the exile, Grandau had been ruled by a long line of brutal dictators.
And this is where Murphy's Law comes in. Somehow the dictatorship of Grandau discovered that an attempt was being made to bring the royal line back to the country. Two assassins were sent to find the island and exterminate everyone on it, as well as kill anyone who was privy to the discovery. The assassins placed a large bomb in the Toomey house, rigged to be triggered when people were there. While placing the bomb they discovered maps in the house the boys and their fathers used to determine the location of the mysterious island. Taking that information, the killers headed for the island.
In the meantime, the boys were already heading to the island, their fathers to follow a few days later once their boat had some necessary repairs done. The boys reach the island, making friends with the exiles and the one surviving royal, a twelve-year-old girl named Tila. Through a short wave radio, they learn from their fathers that men are on their way to kill everyone on the island. The boys must figure out how to defend the island without weapons. And what the boys do not know is that, following the assassins, is a submarine which intends to blow the island to pieces.
Spillane knows how to propel a story but this particular one falls a little flat. Spillane seems uncomfortable with the young adult form. The characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, with the exception of the young princess Tila, who comes across as a bit naive, a bit imperious, and a bit spunky. Most of the violence, and the one murder, is done offstage. The thrills are subdued and the settings are one-dimensional.
While many people have disdained Spillane as a writer, many others (myself included) consider Spillane to have been a talented and skilled author. I enjoyed the book but, as I read it, I couldn't help but think it could have been so much better. There's a reason that this book marked the end of Spillane's short-lived career as a YA adventure writer.