Billy, Stephanie, Mark and Daniel are friends and siblings who live on Okracoke Island just off of the coast of North Carolina. They live ordinary lives on Okarcoke, but when a woman named Theodora McNemmish tries to pay off diver Zeek Beacon for whelk shells with seeds, he sneers at her, and so she is forced to give him her lone treasure, a ring set with precious rubies that she discovered in an old treasure chest, along with the bones of a Spanish Lady, and she believes that the lady and the treasure once belonged to Edward Teach, or Blackbeard himself.
Zeek takes the ring, but he's not really satisfied, and later he comes back, only to be foiled by Billy, Stephanie, Mark and Daniel, who have come to visit Mrs. McNemmish. She tells them about the chest, and tells them that if she dies, she wants to be buried at sea, dumped into the ocean just like she dumped the bones of the Spanish Lady that she found in Edward Teach's chest.
But when the kids leave, Zeek returns, and once again tries to extort more money and treasure from Mrs. McNemmish. Only this time, he causes her to have a heart attack, and she dies. Nobody else seems to believe that Zeek killed her except the four friends, and they risk their lives to get Mrs. McMennish's body out of her coffin and down to the shore, where they put holes in the coffin and push it out to sea, making sure that she gets the burial at sea she wanted.
Not only have they stolen a body, but caused a fire in the church, and broken the window, which keeps them all petrified with fear about being caught. Stephanie catches a bad cold, and they learn that Mrs. McNemmish's last present to them is a duck made of whelk shells for each of them. When they go to retrieve them, they find a piece of paper with a riddle promising to lead them to Blackbeard's treasure- and Zeek, who has come back to look for the treasure of Blackbeard, with whom he is obsessed.
Stephanie, frustrated herself over not finding gold and Diamonds, kicks the chest, finding a secret doorway down under the cottage. The four friends take shelter there when Zeek returns, only for him to lock them in, hoping that will keep them out of his hair. But when he thinks he's found where the treasure lies, he runs for his boat to get to it before anyone else- leaving the kids imprisoned beneath the island.
In the tunnels, which no one on the island seems to know about, the kids have to find a way out, and Stephanie, even though she is sick, also wants to find treasure. As the hours pass and a huge storm veers towards the island, the kids must try and find a way out of the crumbling tunnels before they are washed away, or die when the tunnels collapse. As their parents organize a desperate search, can the kids find the true secret Blackbeard was hiding, and the treasure that everyone thinks exists? or is it already too late for them?
I loved this book, which was a wonderful adventure in a place that is both very different and yet the same environment in which a lot of kids have grown up in at the shore. But this has the added sting of being different by being set on an island, and one that is pretty far from the coast of North Carolina. Storms at the shore here are fierce, but this almost qualifies as open sea, and is much, much more dangerous.
This is an adventure, but its an adventure with very serious consequences. Many adventures for kids are written like it's a lark- while you may suffer some hunger and thirst and feel you are in danger during the story, once it is over, you are none the worse for wear. This story has actual, real consequences: most of the kids end up in the hospital, and they all nearly died, which adds a sense of real danger to the story- this is not a lark the kids can easily best and recover from.
I found this a fascinating story, and I bet a lot of kids would, too. Pirates and Blackbeard are something a lot of kids find interesting, and even though Stephanie comes off as a whiny token girl to me a lot of the time, I think both boys and girls would find this book interesting. Recommended.