FULL BOOK REVIEWS
INLAND SEAS -GREAT LAKES HISTORICAL SOCIETY PUBLICATION
A dark night on the Lake Erie shoreline. Flashing lights signal from the water. Guns fire and a body drops to the beach. Rum Run opens with a scene that sets a dynamic mood, and that excitement is sustained throughout the novel. Set in the declining days of Prohibition, the story immerses the reader quickly in the dangerous waters of Western Lake Erie during the last days of rum-running before Prohibition was repealed.
Historians will appreciate the details provided to recreate life in the post WWI Western Lake Erie region in the 1920s. Durkee describes life in a steel mill town, the shipping industry, boat building and racing, and fishing. Characters travel on the Lakeshore Electric interurban streetcar to jobs (and dancehalls), and boat to the Lake Erie islands where the once profitable vineyards struggle to survive the economic repercussions of Prohibition. The book is a wonderful blending of historical realism and fictional characters who demonstrate clearly the complexity of living with the realities of Prohibition.
Perhaps the strongest feature of the novel is Durkee’s use of characters who are likable, believable, and complex. In fact, Durkee skillfully includes figures who might easily become stereotypes, but her careful use of description prevents oversimplification. For example, the central rum-runner and main character of the book, Rusty, is no typical criminal, but rather a WWI veteran and husband struggling to make a living in a way that keeps him close to the Lake that he loves. Similarly, the Trapani family suggests the classic image of Sicilian gangsters. Yet, like Rusty, the Trapani family are too complex to be labeled so simply. In fact, it is Al Trapani who most clearly expresses the primary theme of the book when he asks,
Can you tell me honestly who are the bad guys and who are the good? Law abiding fishermen are running just to make ends meet . . . law enforcement is doing shakedowns and hijacking booze to line their pockets. Prohibition has made criminals out of the average Joe and corruption in the legal system. Legitimate vintners . . . had the carpet yanked out from under them and went under and for what? So a bunch of teetotalling grannies don’t get offended when they see a glass of whiskey. We never made trouble or asked for it, but it found us. So tell me . . . who are the bad guys? (184).
Prohibition brought unique challenges to the Great Lakes region, and R.C. Durkee does an excellent job of recreating the era and commenting on the complexities that are sometimes lost in tales of gangsters and Coast Guard heroics. For more information about the book and about Prohibition on the Great Lakes, visit the author’s web site at: http://www.rcdurkee.com/.
Jacqueline Justice, PhD
BGSU Firelands College
DONOVAN' BOOK SHELF
In 1928, Prohibition was at its height and rumrunners regularly moved through Canada and into the U.S. along rivers and waterways - a lucrative (if not dangerous) affair. Rum Run, set in this era, begins when Rusty loses his satisfying job at the tug yard and is offered a position hauling 'grape juice' for a family's island vineyard: the start of a new career that blossoms into a full-fledged, lucrative rum running operation.
At this point Rum Run could have moved in any direction: as a novel of intrigue, a story of danger and passion or as a mystery; but, thankfully, it takes a different course that embraces psychological depth as well as higher levels of politics in deception, and that's what sets Rum Run apart from many other stories of Prohibition activities.
As chapters build a believable plot based on historical fact, readers are introduced to the underground world of illegal rum running operations: a world that challenges principles and lives and somehow embraces the fundamental values of American freedom and innovation.
Having stumbled inadvertently into the darker side of rum running, Rusty must decide whether the money is worth its price tag and whether he can even turn down a series of increasingly dangerous involvements.
Expect gunfire, chases, and confrontations, and specifics on rum running to include the daily trials and challenges of eluding capture: "They headed out into the lake, invisible against the inky waters. The fishing ground where they were headed was mostly deserted except for two small boats outfitted with lanterns for night fishing. In the distance, they could see running lights from various vessels. Some would be pleasure boats still out and about, not wanting Friday night to end, some would be at anchor while the occupants slept off a drunk, while others would be returning from the dance hall on Put-in-Bay or Cedar Point. Most assuredly, he knew, harbor patrol and picket boats would be among the mix, tearing their hair out trying to weed out the good boats from the bad."
Prohibition was not only a failure: the illegal actions it sparked lured good citizens to make bad decisions and created a subculture of alcohol more deadly than legalizing the substance. Crime increased and many an innocent man (like Rusty) found himself on the wrong side of the law for the first time in his life.
Rum Run is all about this subculture of boating 'runners', and brings history and events to life through Rusty's eyes and experiences. From outrunning the Coast Guard dragnet to family relationships affected by Rusty's activities, it offers a set of insights not just on the process of Prohibition-era 'running', but the experiences and motivations behind those who make the trips.
It's all these elements, wound into a satisfying and realistic story line backed by historical fact, that make Rum Run a winning account.
D.Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review, September 2014
HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY
During the summer of 1928, when Prohibition is in force, it has become profitable to transport alcohol across Lake Erie, from Canada to the Ohio shoreline. Rusty is a certified Able Bodied Seaman, working on the tugboat Cherokee, hoping to work his way up to Mate and earn more money for himself and his wife, Di. They live in a cottage near the lake in Sandusky, a small fishing village in Ohio. Rusty also charters his own boat, Rising Sun, on fishing excursions during weekends to make extra money. When the tugboat company goes under due to bad management, Rusty is left without a full-time job.
After his wife is nearly killed by Revenue men while crossing the lake after leaving a party, Rusty decides he must begin looking for new work. He strikes up a relationship with a known local gangster and builds a speedboat to help haul illegal liquor. By doing so, he is risking not only his life but also his marriage, should his wife discover his involvement in committing this crime.
The author’s superior knowledge of the Lake Erie’s southern shore is excellent. She drew me into the era with its sights, sounds, and smells. Her characters were believable for the timeline; likewise, the plot kept me interested in the story. Although this isn’t fast-paced book, the action is exciting when introduced. The author really brings this period of history to life.
An enjoyable read. I highly recommend this book.
Jeff Westerhoff, reviewer for Historical Novel Society, HNR Issue 70, Nov. 2014
The CLINKER & The MESSENGER PUBLICATIONS
This is one of the finest books that I have read in many years. It is a historical fiction, yet many people will be able to pick out many of the places, venues, boats and other things. The main character is Rusty, whose wife’s family wants him to work in the steel mill, while all he wants to do in life is run fishing charters on his beloved Lyman instead of being a tug boat deckhand.
One thing leads to another and the next thing he gets involved in is bootlegging to make a fast dollar, and to make enough to get another boat after getting his boat purposely sunk.
Other characters include his sidekick Davey, Eddie and his dog Prince, who gets involved in his own way. Another name to follow is Elliot and the story behind him.
Rum running is a dangerous game and involves gangs, Coast Guard and Federal Law enforcement. It also means big money for those involved doing it. Are the risks for a life, fair trade?
This story has more twists and turns than you can believe and each page keeps you more riveted to keep reading. I could hardly put it down to do other things that I was supposed to do. The plot is extremely strong to stay involved.
This is supposed to be R. C. Durkee’s first historical novel, and it is a real winner. Her research for the book is very deep. The 400 pages are pure tension for the reader.
I purposely did not want to give the plot away, because I want you to read it and enjoy it as much as I have.
Ken Kohler, reviewer for the LBOA magazine, The Clinker, and for the Sandusky Maritime Museum’s publication, The Messenger. April 2015