The cover of my 1995 Ivy Books paperback edition of Rick Boyer's DOC ADAMS mystery, PIRATE TRADE, is unforgettable. It features a carved ivory miniature of an Eskimo or Aleut in a kayak. In his right hand, a two bladed paddle rests on the boat. His left hand seems poised to hurl a harpoon. The harpoon's razor sharp point and part of the shaft is bright red. The story illustrated is less memorable, because unfocused. It rambles too far afield, for my taste.
The novel begins one day in August. Series hero Dr Charles Adams, dental surgeon of Concord, Massachusetts, had sailed alone in his small boat to Nantucket Island. In McQuaid's gift shop Doc bought a "lightship purse" for wife Mary. This was a handcrafted basket once woven from reeds by 19th Century ships crews serving many boring months at a time on floating, moored lighthouses. Famously, in the center of each basket's lid: a carved ivory oval as decoration. Doc Adams forked over as a surprise gift for Mary $1,895 for a recently produced lightship purse. And the scene is set for PIRATE TRADE.
Wife Mary, increasingly into ecology, especially via a year-old membership in a group called Cape Watch, is suspicious that the lighthouse purse's ivory is illegal. U. S. Department of Fish and Wildlife investigator Brad Taylor shares Mary's doubts. He also is happy to find in Mary a willing volunteer to do some underground investigating of suspected ivory smugglers around Cape Cod Bay.
You can read this book for its valuable information on ivory: elephant, walrus and narwhal. That information is ample and, to me, at least fascinating. You can moreover learn about U. S. efforts to protect the creatures that yield the ivory. And also the onetime uses of the three forms of ivory: e.g., as billiard balls and riding crops (ivory is very flexible!).
You can also learn a fair amount about reasons behind the commercial extinction of fish off Massachusetts and off the Grand Banks of Canada.
You can read this book for its thrills. There were not many for me. There is a final confrontation with bad guys way up north in the wilds of Maine. But it did not do much for me.
You can read PIRATE TRADE as a detective puzzle to be unraveled. Questions that arise include:
-- Who was strong enough to drive a replica of Doc's ivory Eskimo/canoe/harpoon into a shopkeeper's chest?
-- Is the covert operative that Mary works with on the up and up or in league with ivory smugglers?
-- Could the growing loss of fishing grounds drive hitherto honest commercial fishermen and even environmentalists to smuggle ivory?
-- Are the smugglers out to kill Doc or merely to scare him off? E. g., when someone sticks an ivory replica of the canoe scene described above on Adams's front door? How should Doc react?
More than any other Doc Adams thriller, PIRATE TRADE puts Doc's marriage at risk. Mary's undercover partner is the sexiest man alive, albeit an old friend of Doc. Mary, for her part, suspects Doc, not without plausible cause, of hanky panky of his own -- with his luscious office assistant. She, Susan Petri, makes a move on Doc once Mary has gone off sleuthing. Doc has reason to fear that Mary has left him forever. And he feels lost. When Mary disappears in the line of duty, how will Doc react? Let her go? Search for her? If you have nothing better to do than probe the love life of Doctor Charles Adams, then read the book and find out.