Patrick, an Irish lad, finagles his way on board the Titanic where he becomes a steward to book-collector Harry Widener and becomes embroiled in an intrigue revolving around Widener’s copy of Sir Francis Bacon’s Essaies.
The rare edition is said to contain, in code, a formula for great wealth. A pair of villains, as theatrically eccentric as any created by Willkie Collins, want the book. After failing to steal it, the thieves ask Patrick to procure the Essaies for them in return for a fee. In a sensible response that will echo readers' reactions, Patrick replies, “Why not ask him [Widener] to borrow it?” For although the inequalities of class, wealth and education are running themes in the story, they do not provide adequate motive for theft. Nor is Patrick’s ensuing moral dilemma—should he steal the book to help his heroic brother, who has fallen ill while laboring on the ship?—entirely convincing. The pacing falters, and, although the descriptions are magnificent, that the action takes place on the Titanic is almost inconsequential except for the threat that the formula may be lost forever. Throughout, Patrick learns much about himself, his family and Bacon’s great secret.
The author's note describing the real Harry Widener and his copy of Essaies may be one of the more gripping aspects of the book. (Historical fiction. 10-14)