The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson (1909): William Hope Hodgson's brilliant short novel of the sea and its terrors is a fine, tightly plotted work of horror and disquieting weirdness. A careful, fairly slow build of suspense climaxes in a rapid-fire and horrifying climax.
Hodgson's early days as a merchant sailor come into full play in this tale of the cargo ship Mortzestus, plying the seas some time early in the 20th century or late in the 19th. The Mortzestus is a sailing ship on an Atlantic run. But she's also a ship whose crews have felt her to be more and more strange as the years have passed. And strange she is, and becoming moreso.
The joys of The Ghost Pirates lie in a lot of areas, from the unusual but intelligibly delivered dialects of the sailors (and of this particular sailing milieu itself, really) to the gradual but accelerating accumulation of details and events that give the novel its name.
From the beginning, we know something has happened -- the narrative is framed as being the written testimony of Jessop, last survivor of the Mortzestus. Jessop has been rescued by another ship. Rescued from what? Well, that's why there's a novel.
The Ghost Pirates is one of two Hodgson weird novels of the sea (The Boats of the Glen Carrig is the other). Hodgson also wrote dozens of other stories set at sea, from comic pieces to thrillers to horror and the supernatural. He also wrote in a sub-genre I'd probably call 'Fictional Sea Cryptids,' tales of unusual animals and other... things... which come into conflict with human beings.
The Ghost Pirates is part ghost story, part cryptid fiction, part pseudo-scientific horror story. Perhaps. Jessop offers an explanation for the events of the novel that's not a tale of actual ghosts, but he doesn't necessarily know what really caused the events of the novel.
Nonetheless, Jessop's quasi-scientific explanation of the horrors he and the rest of the crew of the Mortzestus are beset by is in line with many of Hodgson's other stories and novels in which supernatural events are given disturbing, visionary, cosmic explanations. A model of narrative economy, The Ghost Pirates is one of the treasures of weird fiction. Highly recommended.