GHOST EATER

Frederick Highland, Author . St. Martin's/ Dunne $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-30671-7

Set in 19th-century Dutch-controlled Sumatra, this is a swashbuckling, seafaring novel with mystical overtones. American Ulysses Drake Vanders is commissioned to guide the 70-foot riverboat Lorelei into the Sumatran jungle to investigate so-called "bloodthirsty spirits" terrorizing a Christian mission called Light of the World. If a minister's daughter and another American are brought to safety, permanent command of the Lorelei will be Vanders's reward. Accompanied by pirate hunter Claridge, Vanders must first deliver Rowan Fahey, a convicted dealer in contraband, into custody on the island of Banka. Fahey manages to escape his Banka jailers, stowing away on Vanders's boat up the Jambi River and becoming part of the crew. At a stop along the way, two Malay women hop on board and share superstitious stories about the Golden Sura ghost and the tribes that populate the area. Strange happenings occur (and two more stowaways appear) as they glide up the Sumatran coast; could an evil "hoodoo" curse have been placed on the boat? As a pirating plot is exposed, the Lorelei is taken over by relatively friendly Batak tribesmen. Braving white waters and narrowly escaping more violent warrior tribes, they finally reach the mission, only to discover that the American missionary, Deborah Rand, has gone native and joined the hostile Mamaqs. The dense, rambling narrative leads to a rather lackluster conclusion steeped in tribal folklore and superstition. Overgrown with detail, this tropical odyssey ambles at a boggy pace. (Sept. 19)

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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