The Mystery of the Sea

The Mystery of the Sea
by Bram Stoker
Publication Date: September 22, 2022
Pages: 266
Rating: ★★★½
Fits Halloween Bingo Squares: Genre: Mystery, Gothic

When Archibald Hunter comes to Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire for his annual holiday he is looking forward to a tranquil few days by the sea, but he is disturbed by strange visions and portents of doom. Where are these terrible visions taking him? And what is the significance of the pages of cipher?

I may have seaid this before – I like Dracula. I do. But I don’t love it. I get that it is an important milestone in literature etc. but … meh.

This is the reason I have not really picked up anything else by Stoker until last year’s Halloween Bingo, where I read his unintentionally hilarious and greatly entertaining mummy mystery The Jewel of Seven Stars. It was then that I found out that Stoker wrote a few more novels and one of them was set in Aberdeenshire, where he used to holiday frequently.

The Mystery of the Sea is that book. It is set mostly in both Whinnyfold, a village near Cruden Bay, and Cruden Bay. Cruden Bay is also the location of the castle that – in part – inspired Stoker for Dracula, which he in part wrote in the village hotel, The Kilmarnock Arms.

Anyway, I’m not going to say much about the plot of The Mystery of the Sea, except that we have another young man who is thrown into exceptional circumstances. We have a young lady, whom the young man is besotted by. We have an old crone, who might have second sight, though I am convinced it is not 20:20.

We have a ridiculous adventure plot that includes hidden treasures, ciphers, two Spanish noblemen in two different centuries, perilous cave exporations, wet torches, steamy clothes, and utterly, utterly unbelievable bike rides.

Yes, of all the ridiculous elements of this story, it was the tale that Archie and Marjory apparently fell in love while cycling from Ballater to Aberdeen that I take issue with.

It’s a 40 mile ride. Probably on very bad roads, and on very heavy bicycles with little suspension. Not all of the way is downhill. It did not take them all day either. So, unless both of them were keen and well-trained cyclists (I doubt it, and the book makes no mention of it), this is a mammoth feat, and I really doubt that either of the characters would be able to speak while cycling this trek, never mind be able stand, walk, or sit for days after. But anyway…

As I said, this was the only element I take issue with. The other elements that a modern reader may find disconcerting actually made me laugh quite a bit. The “damsel in distress” thing seems to be a theme in Stoker, but the damsel may just turn out to have the guts in the adventure. And, oh the Victorian romantic expressions of chivalry and love in this one are a riot.

Here she paused; the rising emotion was choking her words. The tears welled into her eyes and her mouth quivered. I was all at once in a fire of devotion. I could then, and indeed when I think of it I can now, realise how of old, in the days when loyalty was a passion, a young knight’s heart flowered and blossomed in the moment of his permitted devotion.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book. So much so, that I went on a little trip today to get some pictures of the location:

More pictures on the next page…

You can see the ruins of (New) Slains Castle on top of the hill.