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Literature / Black Duck

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A prohibition novel by Janet Taylor Lisle. Black Duck is the story of Ruben Hart, a young Rhode Island boy in 1929. Ruben is dragged into the world of rum-running when he and his best friend Jeddy find a murdered body on the beach. Ruben takes a mysterious torn bill from the body, and sons finds himself pursued by competing gang lords, while the mysterious captain of the legendary rum-running vessel the Black Duck takes an interest in his fate.


Contains Examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Father: Bernardo is noted as being even younger than Billy Brady (who, for context, only graduated High School the previous year) but has a wife and two kids.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Ruben telling Marina that Billy was killed by the coast guard.
  • Canine Companion: Two of them, in fact. Billy Brady has Sadie, and Tom Morrison has Viola.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: John Appelby sells Ruben out to one gang of rumrunners, and then that gang out to a second gang. Ruben mentions that he died young in a supposed hunting accident and speculates he was Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves.
  • Communications Officer: Bernardo Rosario, the radioman of the Black Duck.
  • Dirty Cop: Chief MacKenzie's deputy Charlie Pope is heavily corrupt, and willing to turn his back to murder. The chief himself is more decent, but is willing to look the other way towards smuggling.
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  • The Engineer: Alfie Biggs, the burly mechanic on the Black Duck.
  • Father Neptune: Tom Morrison, a legendary local fisherman who had to retire after losing an eye.
  • It's Personal: Campbell resents the Black Duck and its crew for getting him to run aground on a sand bar, publicly humiliating him. They hate him even worse for having killed their previous leader, Billy's father.
  • Karma Houdini: Neither Campbell, nor the two gang leaders are shown being punished.
  • Lovable Rogue: Billy Brady the charming captain of the Black Duck, who saves Ruben's life, and whose feud with the local authorities is given some sympathy.
  • MacGuffin: The torn $50 bill turns out to be needed for an exchange for a large shipment of illegal liquor.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Quite a few locals are tangibly involved in the rum-running business out of economic necessity, including all sorts of non-malicious characters with ordinary jobs who Ruben has known his whole life.
  • Rabid Cop: Coast Guard Captain Campbell is notoriously trigger happy, firing without warning, and refusing medical treatment to wounded rumrunners from boats he captures.
  • The Roaring '20s: The story is set at the end of the decade, in 1929.
  • Robbing the Dead: Tom Morrison admits to have stolen the victims watch and wallet after Ruben and Jeddy found the body, although he left him his wedding ring.
  • Shoot the Dog: The rumrunners searching for the torn bill end up murdering Tom Morrison's dog.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Marina, the police chiefs daughter and Jeddy's sister, is in love with Billy, the captain of the Black Duck.
  • Survivor's Guilt: Implied with Rick Deluca, who is never the same after the rest of the crew of the Black Duck is killed.
  • Tagalong Kid: Ruben is aboard the Black Duck during its last run, managing to hide from the coast guard.
  • Taking the Heat: Chief [McKenzie takes the public blame for selling out the Black Duck to the Coast Guard, in order to keep his son Jeddy, the real culprit, for becoming a pariah.
  • True Companions: There is a great deal of loyalty and camaraderie between the crew of the Black Duck.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Ruben and Jeddy grow further apart as Ruben gets more drawn into the world of rum-running, and Jeddy sells out Billy and his crew although they do try to communicate some in their old age.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Jeddy, the one utterly law-abiding major character in the book.