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rick boyer - the penny ferry

1 rating: 4.0
a modern novel about what really happened to executed (1927) anarchists sacco and vanzetti
1 review about rick boyer - the penny ferry

"Life's biggest problem is that it's boring. At least it's boring most of the time."

  • Jun 30, 2010
THE PENNY FERRY, Rick Boyer's novel of 1984, reissued 1990, is a very good read. From it I also learned 99% of what I know about the 1920 arrest in Brockton, Massachusetts on murder charges and 1927 execution of immigrant Italian anarchists Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Ferdinando Nicola Sacco. As described by Boyer: Sacco was "a shoe trimmer, who lived in Stoughton" and Vanzetti "a fish peddler from Plymouth." Both "got an especially raw deal" (The Hot Item: introduction to the novel).

Curiously, the novel's title, "THE PENNY FERRY" is neither explained, nor becomes a clue before Chapter 22 (of 25 chapters). One such ferry appears in a photo allegedly taken on the afternoon of April 15, 1920. It is of a collision between a penny ferry boat and a cargo launch. A group of three clearly identifiable men in the foreground was accidentally included by the photographer. This photograph leads Doctor Charles Adams, dental surgeon of Concord, Massachusetts, into his final confrontation with the man behind the two murders that launch this second in the series of nine DOC ADAMS mystery thrillers, all set in and around Greater Boston.

In the very first chapter of THE PENNY FERRY, Doc Adams and his wife Mary, attend a fund raising reception for Republican candidate for Governor Joseph Carlton Critchfield III. An off-the-cuff remark by candidate Critchfield in reply to a question draws a sharp rebuke from Mary. For Critchfield had implied that 1980s Boston Italian-Americans, now more rational and dispassionate about the evidence, would themselves have found Sacco and Vanzetti guilty. In fact, most Italians in the 1980s still felt that Massachusetts' ruling WASPS had railroaded the two Italians. The duo went to their deaths despite protests from all over the United States and mass rallies in London, Paris, Rome and elsewhere.

In Chapter Two, author Boyer's narrator, Doc Adams, and his police lieutenant brother in law Joe Brindelli go looking for a special messenger who failed to deliver to Doc dental fixtures he was scheduled to install in an impatient patient. They find the armed messenger dead, murdered by poison gas, in his home in Lowell. And the novel is well and fully launched.

All the elements that move this novel are now in place and key clues are laid out or alluded to between the novel's title page and the end of Chapter Two.

Doc Adams' work extracting impacted wisdom teeth and doing corrective surgery is occasionally fulfilling, but more often then not boring. And Doc opines:

"Life's biggest problem is that it's boring. At least it's boring most of the time" (Ch. 11).

But it always happens: Doc never stays bored for long. Things drag him into murders, mayhem, breaking and entering and into the passions still felt by Italian Americans against the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti. Doc Adams bores easily, but never for long.

I think that both Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper ("the American Scott") would read THE PENNY FERRY with pleasure. They would welcome into their company novelist Rick Boyer as one who knows how to bring history to life in fiction.


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