"The Last Passenger" by Manel Loureiro, translated by Andrés Alfaro
The Last Passenger tells the story of the Valkyrie, a very luxurious – for the times – cruise ship the Nazis built to reward some of their adherents. It sailed only once, we later learn, in 1931. The entire crew and all passengers vanished. Weird things happened. Like when it’s pulled into port, there is nothing wrong with the engines, but they won’t start up.
It’s a very engaging read. But you wouldn’t know that from the first thirty-six pages. It starts back in 1939 with a cargo ship, the Pass of Ballaster, coming upon the Valkyrie. It is in the midst of an incredible thick, cold fog, which they keep trying to deny is more of a malevolent entity than a fog. But they’re already in crisis – because of the fog – at the outset. As a reader, I don’t mind having to hit the ground running. But you have to go back at some point and set the scene. Without that, it’s almost impossible to care about the characters.
Anyway, back in 1939, the crew of Pass of Ballaster board the Valkyrie and find it not only deserted, but clearly was deserted years ago. And yet, there’s fresh, hot food on the table. And an infant, whom they take back with them. Because this all happened only weeks before England’s entry into World War II, the incident didn’t get much attention. But that baby is now in his 70s and wants to learn about his mysterious past.
Whenever you introduce magic or mysticism into a story, it can get frustrating. Just how how many laws of physics are we willing to have completely blasted? For instance, I’m willing to believe in ghosts, in spirits hanging around to help their loved ones. But not in physical form. Not the kind that can pound his way through solid steel doors (I’d have believed he could make them open, but not with physical force) or have sex with his wife. And get her pregnant.
I don’t think it’s giving anything away to tell you that Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, is at the root of the story, which is fine. But I strongly objected to the book labeling Kabbalah black magic. It is not. It’s not white magic, either. It’s not magic at all, it’s mysticism. Mysticism is a way of enlightenment, it has to do with manipulating energies, becoming one with God. It definitely does not involve unleashing terrible forces.
Anyway, the Valkyrie had been caught in a loop that started again every time someone found and boarded the ship. The way Kate, the one whose ghost husband gets her pregnant, ended that cycle didn’t seem quite right to me. But that may just be me.
One thing I liked about Manel Loureiro’s writing is that he leaves no threads left hanging. So many authors start a subplot line and then never take it anywhere. he characters were relatable, but not always well drawn. There just wasn’t a lot of reason to care about or even remember many of them. Mr. Loureiro does do a very good job of moving the characters back and forth through time, though. That is interesting. And shows them slowly being taken over by the ship’s evil past. That was pretty cool.