(Reviewed by Mary Whipple OCT 12, 2004)
"There were days that [Wacko] felt like a leaf on [a] tree nearing the end of its cycle, the greenness diminishing, turning orange, and Wacko sensed a cold wind coming that eventually would twist him until he fell. His life was insane. There was nothing normal about associating with killers, selling drugs, or sticking a gun in someone's face, taking what was theirs. But what was he supposed to do, be a sucker, get a job?"
An uncompromising picture of life's harsh realities, Boyos offers a close-up view of those who decide to abandon "civilian" life to become drug dealers, hardcore criminals, murderers, informants, stoolies, crime bosses, and occasionally, federal investigators in South Boston, one of Boston's working class, mostly Irish neighborhoods. Author Richard Marinick, himself a local boy, developed his gritty writing style in a prison writing program when he was incarcerated for eleven years for armed robbery, and in this debut novel he presents a candid view of the petty criminals and not-so-petty murderers who operate behind the scenes in a seemingly "ordinary" urban neighborhood.
Jack "Wacko" Curran and his brother Kevin deal dope to small-time pushers, often resorting to violence to teach dealers a lesson if they renege on their payments. Many of these dealers are also users, as is Kevin himself, and consuming "product" can be very costly when the dealer cannot pay for drugs that he has accepted and consumed. Wacko, we discover, already has one murder to his "credit," someone whose name even Kevin is not allowed to mention, and he bitterly resents the fact that he has to pay the "Fallon tax" to Marty Fallon, the biggest boss in Southie. "Working for Marty Fallon," Wacko says, "is like chewing off your body parts."
Wacko is working hard on two separate projects, much bigger than his drug sales, trying to find the perfect partners to help him pull off a million dollar heist of diamonds from a jeweler in Westwood. At the same time, he is also planning two huge armored car heists. Because he has decided that he will no longer pay off Marty Fallon and his enforcer, Andre Athanas, Wacko is determined to keep his plans from them. The hard-boiled, supermacho dialogue, local slang, and odd nicknames (the Winger, Maggot, the Animal, the Monster, Elbow) add realism to the story, as Wacko moves around town, and introduces the reader to the complex interrelationships among these men who have decided that being "civilians" does not pay well enough to support their tastes and lifestyles.
The life of a young criminal in South Boston, the reader discovers, is a complicated chess game with moves and countermoves. Wacko must sometimes test his potential partners to see if they are ratting to the police or the feds—sometimes giving a "partner" false information about when and where something will happen while Wacko spies from a rooftop to see if a SWAT team and local police are lying in wait. He must arrange for the perfect, stolen getaway cars, something innocuous that will not tip off the police and which can be hidden nearby. The timing has to be perfect, and there has to be a way to fence items or hide cash so that Marty Fallon and the police do not know who is involved.
At the same time, Wacko must also conduct his regular business so that he does not tip anyone off to the fact that something big may be about to happen. For Wacko, this regular business involves a great deal of violence, from beating someone with a hammer, to kneecapping a dealer late on payments, and, not incidentally, murder. And when he decides to commit a robbery in the North End, where a Mafia crime family has long reigned, unchallenged, he must also guard against retaliation from yet another source.
Violent, suspenseful, and realistic as it details the thinking of men like Wacko, Marinick's strong, macho novel features only two women, one almost a saint, and other, a sinner who must pay the price. Except for the Wacko's and Kevin's attendance at a "time" for Timmy McCarthy, who committed suicide while under the influence of the drugs they provided, there are few hints of any soft, human side for these characters at all, and love seems not to enter into any of their relationships with the women they bed. The closest Wacko gets to humor is when he willingly pays off Mike "The Winger" Finnerty, a retarded man who wants a dollar from him because he is using a parking space that Mike claims to own. By the end of this very dark novel, the huge cast of characters is far smaller, as violence takes its toll.
Marinick has chosen a difficult approach for his debut novel. Focusing on Wacko Curran and Kevin, he attempts to show how and why they think the way they do and what it takes for them to operate their "business" in Southie. Since they are not sympathetic characters as they bully and bludgeon those who get in the way, the reader is alternately fascinated by their lives but repulsed by their actions, yet it is impossible to stop reading because he has created a great deal of suspense. Unlike crime novels, in which some hero brings down the crooks, these characters do not get their comeuppance from law enforcement, but rather from each other in their dog-eat-dog world, and Marinick's conclusion is realistic and satisfying, without being a cop-out. The novel's strong sense of place and odd characters suggest that this could be the beginning of a series, if Wacko can be humanized enough to appeal to the reader's sympathy.
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Publisher page on Richard Marinick bio
- B.U. Bridge on Richard Marinick
- Boston Magazine review of Boyos
- The Boston Globe review of Boyos
- Detroit Free Press review of Boyos
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About the Author:
Richard Marinick held many jobs -- short order cook, junior civil engineer, automobile painter, nightclube bouncer and admin assistant to a District Attorney and even as a State Police trooper -- before deciding that he had enough of the "slow-lane, no-money life of a citizen." He was on a roll for years, "reveling in money, using way too much cocaine." But in 1986, at age 35 he was convicted of an armored-car robbery and sentenced to eighteen-to-twenty years in state prison. While incarcinerated, he earned his master's degree in liberal arts from Boston University. After prison, Marinick wrote Boyos during breaks on his job as tunnel worker on Boston's Big Dig. He's now working on his second novel, a private eye mystery.
Marinick lives in South Boston, Massachusetts.