|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on July 2, 2020 at 1:05 PM|
While the cliché about the ordinary joe who stumbles onto a murder is very familiar, it is surprisingly underrepresented among Edgar winners. We need to go backward through 13 years of international assassins, reformed terrorists, smugglers with hearts of gold, and professional detectives, soldiers and spycatchers to get to Forfeit in 1970, whose protagonist was a reporter. Even a reporter is professional obliged to investigate. 1969’s A Case of Need features a pathologist, so he is more of an actual amateur, though he doesn’t really stumble onto the case since he is motivated to clear an unjustly-accused colleague. In that sense, Billingsgate Shoal was a breath of change, since “Doc” Adams is an oral surgeon who is originally in no way connected to the case, but just bored with his prosperous suburban life and nosy.
Doc is also an expert boater, and in fact the vivid and detailed descriptions of boating are one of the strengths of the book, and another unusual element. Some intricate plot points later on hinge on Doc’s knowledge of the design and construction of boats – while a little of this was lost on me, I quickly loaned my copy to a friend who loves both boats and mysteries. At any rate, Doc’s knowledge of boats and nosy nature turn deadly when he observes a mysterious crew performing midnight repairs on a small feature near Cape Cod called Billingsgate Shoal. He convinces a young scuba diver friend of his to check out the hull of the craft – and the diver turns up dead. No one thinks it’s murder except Doc, who thinks it is a murder and one that he has inadvertently caused.
Our hero is thus obligated to take up the case and make sure that the people behind the boat don’t get away with whatever put them there. He needs to use his nautical knowledge to track down the boat’s provenance and he runs into some very nasty people who would prefer that their secret activities remain secret. I appreciated that the plot was not just a generic plot plugged into Cape Cod for color, but was integral to its setting. Was it convincing at the end, both narratively and morally? That’s for the spoiler installment.
It is not easy to find much biographical information about Rick Boyer. Every source likes to mention that he studied writing under Kurt Vonnegut, which is really cool, but doesn’t say much about his life. He apparently taught English at Western Carolina University, though it is unclear if this was a part-time gig since the University doesn’t seem to list him as a professor emeritus. He doesn’t seem to have been in the news since 1996, when he was mentioned as part of an article on famous people moving to Asheville, NC. It seems that his last Doc Adams book was published in 1998; ten years later he was in the local Asheville Press for a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories he published with an obscure press. Not all of his publications during his prime were mysteries – he was also responsible for The Places Rated Almanac and some other popular reference works. If any readers know more about his current whereabouts and activities, it would be nice to hear if he is still doing well.
Categories: Edgar Winner Reviews (No Spoilers)