The back of the book reads:
The story is given to us by American journalist G. Grantley Dixon, who is himself a character in the novel, and is a journalistic murder mystery that is “newly revised with many inclusions” in the commemorative 100th edition. Dixon includes excerpts from the captain’s log, interviews from people connected to the characters, and historical documents and letters.
In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by famine and injustice, the Star of the Sea sets sail for the New World. On board are hundreds of refugees. Among them are a maid with a devastating secret, the bankrupt Lord Merridith and his wife and children, and a killer who stalks the decks in search of vengeance. This journey will see many lives end, while others begin anew. In this spellbinding tale of tragedy and mercy, love and healing, the farther the ship sails towards the Promised Land, the more her passengers seem moored to a past that will never let them go. (Star of the Sea, fourth cover).
The murder mystery in the book is interesting because we know from the beginning that David Merridith is the person who gets murdered. The mystery in the novel comes from questioning who murders him, why he is murdered, and what past events caused this to be his fate.
Dixon breaks up telling the chronological voyage of the ship with chapters giving us insight into the characters’ pasts, explaining their stories. We see the major events that happen in the characters’ lives and also see how all of these characters were affected by the Irish Potato Famine.
Throughout the novel we question the concept of voice - who can be a voice for Ireland, for the famine? Does Dixon have the right to tell this story?
Ultimately this novel portrays the Irish Potato famine experience, the causes of why so many people suffered as much as they did, how it impacted people, and the lasting effect that the past can have on individuals.
The New York Times Book Review sums it up quite nicely:
"Star of the Sea is...an agonizing inquiry into the nature of abandonment and the difficulty of finding anyone who will truly care about the fate of others."