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Black Duck

Black Duck

4.2 22
by Janet Taylor Lisle

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It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small coastal Rhode Island town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Soon the boys, along with Jeddy’s strongwilled sister, Marina, are drawn in, suspected by rival bootlegging gangs of taking something crucial off


It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small coastal Rhode Island town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Soon the boys, along with Jeddy’s strongwilled sister, Marina, are drawn in, suspected by rival bootlegging gangs of taking something crucial off the dead man. Then Ruben meets the daring captain of the Black Duck, the most elusive smuggling craft of them all, and it isn’t long before he’s caught in a war between two of the most dangerous prohibition gangs.

"Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure." --School Library Journal

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Lots of adventure and mystery. (VOYA)

Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure. (School Library Journal)

The setting's cinematic detail brings the exhilarating action close, and readers will easily see themselves in young Ruben. (Booklist)

Publishers Weekly
The title of Lisle's (The Art of Keeping Cool) suspenseful novel refers to a rumrunner-one of the boats used during Prohibition to smuggle outlawed liquor into the U.S. Readers will likely look past the awkward frame story-a contemporary student interviews Ruben Hart, who was a child during Prohibition-as they sink deeper into Ruben's story. In the spring of 1929, while Ruben and his friend Jeddy look for lobster pots, they come across a man's body washed up on the beach, elegantly dressed, with a bullet hole through his neck. They go back to report it, but when the police arrive, the body has vanished. The situation grows complicated: Jeddy's father is chief of police, Ruben's father works for general store owner Mr. Riley, whom Ruben suspects may be involved in the bootlegging, and an old fisherman living in a seaside shack is roughed up as some men come looking for a mysterious "ticket." Much is at stake, as many locals supplement their livelihood by unloading the rumrunners, and townsfolk suspect there is a traitor in their midst. This is a gripping tale of families and friendships stretched to the breaking point as the community around Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay is caught in the escalating conflict between rival gangs. Faux reproductions of period articles anchor the narrative and move the story along. Even though readers know from the get-go that the Black Duck will come to no good, they will eagerly turn the pages to find out how. Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
When Ruben and Jeddy scour the Rhode Island shore for lost lobster posts, they never expect to find a dead body—let alone one with a bullet hole through his neck, dressed in a fancy suit and wearing a gold wristwatch. Ruben and Jeddy rush into town to report their finding, but the police seem in no hurry to check out the crime scene. They tell the boys to go home and wait for further instructions. When the deputy finally returns several hours later and the boys lead him back to the beach, the body is gone. Convinced that the dead man is somehow involved in the lucrative bootlegging trade, the boys are determined to solve the mystery of the man's death and disappearance in spite of warnings from the police and their own families to not get involved. Ruben and Jeddy's story is told in reminiscences of an elderly Ruben to a not-quite-high-school-age reporter digging into the story of a legendary rumrunner that eluded the law for years along the Rhode Island coast during the height of prohibition. Successfully combining gripping mystery and suspense with historical fiction, this book engages readers from page one all the way to its satisfying conclusion. 2006, Philomel/Penguin, Ages 8 to 12.
—Pat Trattles
Framed as a modern-day interview between a teenage boy and the last surviving rumrunner in a Rhode Island town, Ruben Hart tells the story of the Black Duck, a legendary, fast smuggling boat, from his firsthand experience in 1929, when he was a teenager. Ruben and his best friend, Jeddy McKenzie, the police chief's son, find a body washed up on the beach, confirming the rumor that rumrunners are working in the area. They report it to the police, and then return to find the body missing. Over time, both boys notice that most of the town's residents are involved in smuggling, mainly out of necessity, and they watch as bootlegging escalates, larger and more sinister gangs take over, and corruption spreads. A philosophical difference separates the friends, who end up on opposite sides of the conflict between the authorities and the rumrunners. Lisle's story presents complex issues about Prohibition: that many of the authorities were corrupt, and that the violence resulting from bootlegging was worse than the effects of alcohol. Her book is filled with material for a good classroom discussion on history and ethics. There is lots of adventure and mystery, and careful readers will find clues to the story all along that they can piece together. The subject of rum-running should interest boys and reluctant readers. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Philomel, 240p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Jenny Ingram
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-A teen's determination to be published in the local paper leads him to Ruben Hart's front door and an unlikely friendship. The elderly man has a mysterious past, and David soon becomes wrapped up in his tale of how he played an integral part in the adventures surrounding the legendary rum-running ship called the Black Duck. In 1929, in Newport, RI, Ruben and his friend Jeddy, 14, found a body on the beach. By the time they convinced the authorities to check it out, the dead man had disappeared, and soon both the New York and Boston mobs were after Ruben. The author explores the subject of Prohibition as well as various underlying social themes. She shows the difficulty of staying honest when everyone else is breaking the law and when local authorities all seem to be in on the action. Another issue involves the Coast Guard's shooting of three men believed to be rumrunners, and whether the murders were justified. Readers will be inspired by both Ruben's and David's will to succeed when faced with an overwhelming challenge and how they stand by their convictions in doing so. The decade-alternating chapters may be a bit challenging for reluctant readers, but the riveting mystery and nonstop adventure will provide enough incentive for older readers.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two boys find a man's body on the shore. He's barefoot but dressed in a suit and has a bullet hole in his neck. When they bring help, the body has disappeared. It's 1929, along the coast of Rhode Island, a site of rum-running during the Prohibition era. Bootleggers, modern-day pirates, locals cheering on the bad guys-it's the stuff of fine storytelling. Based on the true story of the Black Duck, a fast, hard-to-catch boat that ran circles around the Coast Guard, Lisle's tale is told through an interview conducted by young David Peterson of old Ruben Hart, rumored to have been a rumrunner. The interview scenes interrupt the pace and drama of the narrative, but readers will enjoy the unfolding story as David hears it. Like The Art of Keeping Cool (2000), also set in Lisle's home state of Rhode Island, this is solid historical fiction. Together, they make a nice one-two punch-one about the Prohibition era, one of the home front during WWII. (author's note) (Fiction. 10+)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.65(d)
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

A secret memory . . .

What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wandered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.


For Richard Lisle, with love.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events, locales, or living persons is entirely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Newport Daily Journal, December 30, 1929



NEWPORT, DEC. 30—Three alleged rum runners were killed by machine gun fire and another man was wounded near Newport shortly before 3 o’clock Sunday morning, according to the Coast Guard. The men were in a 50-foot speedboat well-known locally as the Black Duck.

The boat, carrying a cargo of 300 cases of smuggled liquor, was stumbled on in dense fog by Coast Guard Patrol Boat 290. A burst of machine gun fire killed all three men instantly in the pilot house. A fourth crew member was shot through the hand. No arms were found on board.

“The shooting is unfortunate but clearly justified by U.S. Prohibition law forbidding the trade or consumption of liquor anywhere in the United States,” a Coast Guard spokesman said in a statement to reporters last night. “These rogue smugglers threaten our communities and must be stopped.”

Other details were not available as authorities kept them guarded.

The Interview

A RUMRUNNER HAD LIVED IN TOWN, ONE OF the notorious outlaws who smuggled liquor during the days of Prohibition, that was the rumor. David Peterson heard he might still be around.


No one knew exactly. It was all so long ago.

Well, who was he?

This was equally vague. Someone said to ask at the general store across from the church.

It would be a miracle if the man was still alive, David thought. He’d be over eighty. If he were anywhere, he’d probably be in a nursing home by now.

But it turned out he wasn’t. He still lived in town. Ruben Hart was his name.

The number listed in the telephone book doesn’t answer. There is an address, though. David has his mother drop him off at the end of the driveway. It’s June. School is over. He tells her not to wait.

The house is gray shingle, hidden behind a mass of bushes that have grown up in front of the windows. David isn’t surprised. It’s what happens with old people’s homes. Plantings meant to be low hedges or decorative bushes sprout up. Over time, if no one pays attention, they get out of control. David’s family is in the landscaping business and he knows about the power of vegetation. He’s seen whole trees growing through the floor of a porch, and climbing vines with their fingers in the attic. Left to its own devices, nature runs amok.

David knocks on the front door. After a long pause, an old fellow in a baggy gray sweater opens up. David tells him straight out why he’s come: he’s looking for a story to get in the local paper.

They won’t hire me, but the editor says if I come up with a good story, he’ll print it. I want to be a reporter, he announces, all in one breath.

Is that so? the man says. His face has the rumpled look of a well-used paper bag, all lines and creases. But his eyes are shrewd.

I’m a senior in high school, David explains to build up his case. It’s a slight exaggeration. He’ll be a freshman next fall.

He receives a skeptical stare.

Then the man, who is in fact Ruben Hart himself, still kicking, as he says with a sly glint of his glasses, invites David in.

My wife’s in the kitchen. We can go in the parlor.

David has never before heard anyone say that word, parlor, to describe a room in a house. He’s read it in stories from English class, though, and knows what one is. The chairs are formal and hard as a rock, just as you’d expect.

I suppose you’re here to find out about the old days, Mr. Hart says. His voice is raspy-sounding, as if he doesn’t use it much.

I am.

Must be the liquor Prohibition back in the 1920s you’re interested in, rumrunners and hijackers, fast boats and dark nights.

Yes, sir!

I wasn’t in it.

You weren’t? David frowns. I heard you were.

I wasn’t.


I guess that’s that, Mr. Hart says. Sorry to disappoint you.

Did you know anyone who was? David asks.

I might’ve. Mr. Hart’s glasses glint again.

Could you talk about them?


That was the end of their first meeting.

A week later, David tries again. He’s done some research this time, found a newspaper article from 1929 about the Coast Guard gunning down some unarmed rumrunners, and learned the names of beaches around there where the liquor was brought in.

The first rumrunners were local fishermen who wanted to make an extra buck for their families. They’d sneak cases of booze onshore off boats that brought the stuff down from Canada or up from the Bahamas. But there was too much money to be made, as there is in the drug trade today. Hardened criminals came in and formed gangs. People were shot up and murdered. The business turned vicious.

My wife’s gone out, we can sit in the kitchen, Mr. Hart says this time.

When they settle, David has his plan of attack ready.

I don’t want to bother you, but I read about some things and wondered if I could check them out with you. Nothing personal, just some facts.

Such as? The old man’s eyes are wary.

Was Brown’s Beach a drop for liquor? I read it was.

I guess there’s no harm in agreeing to that. Everybody in town knew it.

And were there hidden storage cellars under the floor of the old barn out behind Riley’s General Store? Across from the church, you know where I mean?

They’re still there, as far as I know.

One other thing, David says. There was a famous rum-running boat around here named the Black Duck . . .

That was the end of their second meeting.

The man closes up, won’t even make eye contact. He says his heart’s acting funny and he’s got to take a pill. Five minutes later David is heading back out the driveway. He hitches home this time rather than wait for his mother. He’s touched on something, he knows it. There’s a story there. How to pry it out of the old geezer?

He’s still wondering a week later when, surprise of all surprises, Mr. Hart calls him. He’s managed to ferret out David’s home number from among the dozens of Petersons in the telephone book.

I’ll talk to you a bit. An old friend of mine is ill. You’ve been on my mind.

David can’t see the connection between himself and some old friend, but he gets a ride over there as soon as he can. His father drives him this time, grumbling, You’re making me late. What’s wrong with riding a bicycle? In my day, we went everywhere under our own steam.

David doesn’t answer. In a year and a half he’ll be old enough to drive himself and won’t need to put up with irritating comments like this.

Sorry about your friend being sick, he says to Mr. Hart. They’re in the kitchen again. The wife has gone away to visit her brother out of state.

Took a turn for the worse the beginning of the week, Mr Hart says. Jeddy McKenzie. He and I grew up together here. His dad used to be police chief in this town.

He gazes speculatively at David. Ever hear of Chief Ralph McKenzie?

David says no.

Well, that was way back, during these Prohibition days you’re so interested in. The law against liquor got passed and the government dumped it on the local cops to enforce. That was a laugh. What’d they think would happen? Afterward, Jeddy moved away, to North Carolina. I always hoped I’d see him again. We were close at one time. Had adventures.

What adventures? David asks.

Mr. Hart’s eyes flick over him, as if he still has grave doubts about this interview. He goes ahead anyway.

Ever seen a dead body?

David shakes his head.

We found one washed up down on Coulter’s Beach.

David knows where Coulter’s Beach is. He swims off there sometimes. Was it a rumrunner? he asks.

Mr. Hart doesn’t answer. He has watery blue eyes that wink around behind his glasses’ thick lenses. It’s hard to get a handle on his expression.

This was in the spring, 1929. Smuggling was in high gear. Thousands of cases of liquor coming in every month up and down this coast. Outside racketeers creeping in like worms to a carcass, smelling the money. People look back now and think those days were romantic, all high jinks and derring-do. They’re mistaken.

David has brought a notepad along, expecting to jot down interesting facts. Not romantic, he writes at the top of the page. (What are high jinks?) After that, he forgets to write. Mr. Hart’s raspy voice takes over the room.

So, Jeddy McKenzie and I came on this body.



A stiff sou’wester was in charge that day, shoving the waves against the shore like a big impatient hand. Jeddy’s head never could keep a cap on in a blow. I remember how he walked bent over, holding his brim down with both hands. I stalked beside him, eyes on the sand.

“Clean beach,” I’d say gloomily whenever we rounded a corner.

We’d been hunting for lobster pots since lunch and would have gone on till dinner if not for the interruption. Marked pots returned to their owners paid ten cents apiece. We were fourteen years old and in dire need of funds. You couldn’t get a red penny out of your parents in those days. They didn’t have anything to spare.

“There’s got to be some! It blew like stink all night,” Jeddy shouted over the wind.

“Well, it’s blowing like murder right now,” I cried back, without an inkling of how true this was about to become.

We rounded a spuming sand dune to a burst of noise. Down the beach, braying seagulls circled at the water’s edge.

“Something’s driving bait. Maybe a shark,” Jeddy said. “Those gulls are getting in on the kill.”

I shaded my eyes. “No, it’s something else. I can see something floating in the water.”

“Dead shark, then.”

“Or a dead seal. Too small for a shark. Come on.”

We took off at a jog, wind tearing at our clothes. When we got there, though, all we saw was a busted-up wooden crate knocking around in the waves. Nothing was inside, but we recognized its type. It was a bootleg case, a thing we’d come across before on the beach. If you were lucky, and we never were that I can recall, there’d be bottles still wedged inside—whiskey, vodka, brandy, even champagne—smuggled liquor that could bring a good price if you knew what to do with it. Jeddy and I weren’t lawbreakers. We’d never even had a drink. But like a lot of folks along that coast we weren’t against keeping our eyes open if there was a chance of profit in it.

“Coast Guard must have been sniffing around here last night,” Jeddy said. “Looks like somebody had to dump their cargo fast.”

“Maybe. Could be it’s left over from a landing. They’ve been bringing stuff into the dock down at Tyler’s Lane.”

“How d’you know that?”

“Saw them,” I boasted, then wished I hadn’t. It was no secret that Jeddy’s dad was on the lookout for rumrunners. Police Chief Ralph McKenzie was a stickler for the law.

Jeddy gave me a look. “You saw somebody landing their goods? At night?”

I shut my trap and inspected a schooner passing out to sea. I knew something Jeddy didn’t.

“What were you doing at Tyler’s at night?” he demanded. “It’s way across town from your house. Ruben Hart! You’re fibbing, right?”

“Well.” I gave the crate a kick.

“I thought so! Next you’re going to say it was the Black Duck.

“Maybe it was!”

“You’re a liar, that’s for sure. Nobody ever sees the Duck. My dad’s been chasing her for years and never even come close. She’s got twin airplane engines, you know. She does over thirty knots.”

I glared at him. “I know.”

“So did you see her or not?”

“Maybe I heard somebody talking.”


“Couple of days ago. It’s dark of the moon this week. That’s when they bring the stuff in.”

“Who was talking?”

“I better not say. You’d have to tell your dad.”

“I wouldn’t. Honest.”

I shrugged and gazed across the water to where the lighthouse was standing up on its rock, high and white as truth itself.

“Come on. I’d only have to tell him if he asked me direct, and why would he do that?” Jeddy said. “Did somebody see the Black Duck come in at Tyler’s dock?”

“Listen, I don’t know,” I said, backing off. “I heard a rumor there was a landing, that’s all. Whoever did it could’ve cracked some cases to pay off the shore crew that helped unload. That’s one way they pay them. Everybody gets a few bottles.”

“Well, you should know,” Jeddy said, sulkily. “Your dad is probably in deep with the whole thing.”

“He is not!” I drew up my defenses at this. “My dad would never break the law. He might not agree with it, but he wouldn’t break it.”

My father was Carl Hart, manager of Riley’s General Store in town. He was a big man with a big personality, known for speaking his mind in a moment of heat, but there was nothing underhanded in him. He dealt fair and square no matter who you were, and often he was more than fair. Quietly, without even Mr. Riley knowing, he’d help out folks going through hard times by carrying their overdue accounts till they could pay. He wouldn’t take any thanks for it, either, which is why my mother would find a couple of fresh-caught bluefish on our front porch some mornings, or a slab of smoked ham or an apple pie.

“Now, Carl, what is it you’ve done to deserve this?” she’d ask, raising an eyebrow.

He’d shake his head like it was nothing, and never answer.

My father was tough on me growing up. He was an old-fashioned believer in discipline and hard work, far beyond what was fair or necessary, it seemed to me. There never was much warmth or fun between us, the way some boys have with their dads, but one thing I was sure of: he was an honest man. Whatever mischief was going on along our shores at night—and you’d have had to be both blind and deaf back then not to know there was a lot—it wouldn’t have anything to do with him.

Jeddy knew it, too. “Your dad wouldn’t break any law,” he admitted. “I was only saying that.”

“I knew you didn’t mean it,” I said.

We almost never fought. Whatever Jeddy thought or felt, I understood and respected, and I’d step back and make allowances for it. He watched out for me the same way. I guess you could say we’d sort of woven together.

Our mothers had grown up in town and been friends themselves all the way through school. When they married our dads, they became friends, too. In the early days there was a steady stream of lendings and borrowings, emergency soups and neighborly stews between our houses, the sort of thing that goes on so easily in a small town. Then, in the middle of one winter, Jeddy’s mother got sick. It turned out to be the flu that took so many that year.

Her death stunned everyone in town, but it struck the McKenzies like an iron fist. Eileen was her name, and she’d been the heart of the family, the strong one in the house. Jeddy’s dad just collapsed. For a while, he didn’t go anywhere or do anything.

Jeddy was seven at the time, in the first grade with me. I remember how I’d walk over in the afternoons after school and sit on his front porch in case he wanted to come down and play. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t. I’d stay awhile—the place was too quiet to even think of knocking—then go off if he didn’t appear. We both knew without saying it that I’d be back the next day. It was a way we’d worked out to help him get through.

Jeddy’s dad had been head man on a local chicken farm, but soon he quit that and began to commute over to Portsmouth to train for police work. The state force was just starting up. It pulled him away from old connections, including my parents, and maybe that’s what he wanted. Even when he was hired a year later for the job of our police chief, he kept his distance from us. He never spoke to anyone about the blow he’d suffered, but thinking back, I wonder if he wasn’t still trying to depend on his wife for a strength he didn’t have. Anyone visiting at the McKenzies’ could’ve seen it. He was keeping her around, strange as that sounds.

Her coat and hat hung on a hook in the hall, as if she’d only stepped out for a moment. Her wedding china was on display in the parlor cabinet. Her sheet music sat on the piano. Her bold handwriting filled the book of recipes that lay open, more often than not, on the counter in the kitchen where Marina, Jeddy’s older sister, was now in charge. She’d been a frightened nine-year-old when her mother had died. Seven years later, at sixteen, she was running the house.

It was Marina who served us supper when Jeddy asked me to stay over evenings. It was she who washed up after, darned her father’s socks, hung the laundry and took it down. She changed the beds, swept the floors, hauled in coal for the stove. With the sleeves of her school blouse rolled tight above her elbows (at this time, she was still only a high school sophomore) and one of her mother’s cotton aprons wrapped double around her waist, Marina handled all the jobs a grown woman would. I couldn’t get used to that, seeing a girl that age taking on what she did. Only a certain watchful gaze she leveled at the world gave a glimpse into what it must have cost her.

“I’d tell you if I knew who it was at Tyler’s, really I would,” I said to Jeddy that day on the beach, to make things right between us.

He nodded. “I know you would. And I wouldn’t tell my dad.”

“Of course not.”

“It’d be just between us.”

“Always has been, always will be,” I announced. I couldn’t meet his eyes though. I’d already broken that trust. There was something I wasn’t telling him, something I couldn’t.

Maybe he suspected, because he gave me a long stare. Then he let it go, didn’t say any more about it. I wonder, though, when he thinks back—as I know he has done plenty of times over the years, just like me—does he remember that conversation the way I do, as the first crack in our friendship? I wish I could ask him.

What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wandered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.


IT’S ODD HOW A SHOCKING SIGHT CAN SHAKE your mind so you don’t at first register the whole, just the small, almost comical details. Like the hand complete with fancy gold wristwatch, wedding band and neatly clipped fingernails we saw bobbing on the water’s surface as we came toward the pool. Above it, swathed in a shawl of brown seaweed, a rubbery-looking shoulder peeked out, white as a girl’s. Above that, a bloated face the color of slate; two sightless eyes, open. And there in his neck, what was that? I saw a small dark-rimmed hole.

The body was surrounded by floating shreds of what had once been a fancy evening suit. The feet were bare, with the same wrinkly soles anyone would get who stayed in a bathtub too long.

“Looks like he’s been in the water awhile,” Jeddy said. “Is it somebody?”

He meant, “Is it somebody we know.”

“Don’t think so,” I said. “Anyhow, he was shot.”


“In the neck. See there?”

Jeddy leaned forward to look. The hole was in the skin just above the collarbone. “Oh,” he said, and stepped back fast.

“We could check his pockets,” he suggested. “See if he’s got a wallet or something with his name on it.”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll hold your hat.”

He took it off and gave it to me, then bent to touch the body, which rocked a bit under his hand.

“Maybe we shouldn’t disturb anything.”

“Maybe not,” I said, as squeamish as he was.

“My dad would look if he were here.”

“He’d have to.”

Jeddy squared himself and went forward again. Reaching into the water, he felt the sodden sides of what remained of the dead man’s pants for where the pockets would be.

“I can’t feel anything.”

“Try his jacket.”

Jed patted down the black floating garment and shook his head. “Guess he lost everything at sea.”

“Or he was frisked after they shot him,” I said. “Anything in his back pockets?”

“You do it,” Jeddy said. He’d had enough.

I went forward and felt around, trying not to brush up against the corpse’s skin. It had a cold, blubbery feel that turned my stomach. My hands ran into something. I brought out a pipe and a sodden satchel of tobacco.

“Guess he was a smoker.”

Jeddy took them for a look, then handed them back. “Are you sure that’s all?”


“We need to tell someone.”

“Your dad.”

“Let’s go back to my house. I can call him from there.”

After this, though, action seemed beyond us. For a time we stood rooted in place, staring at the dead man, and at the pool of gray water he lay in, and at the gulls who floated on the incoming swells just offshore, watching our movements with cold yellow eyes. Death was no more to them than a ready-made meal. Neither of us had seen a drowned man before, not to mention a corpse with a bullet hole in its neck.

“I bet he was with the mob,” said Jeddy, who had no clearer idea than I did at this time what that might be. “Maybe he was in on the landings at Tyler’s Lane.”

“Wearing an evening suit?”

“Well, maybe he’s a high roller from Newport and he tried to double-cross somebody and they found out.”

“Or maybe they double-crossed him.”

The newspapers were full of such stories. My mother tried to keep me from reading them, but I got around her on that as I did on most things. Al Capone and his Chicago gangsters were in the headlines daily. In New York City, Lucky Luciano was fighting it out with a couple of other gangs, and from all accounts blood flowed regularly in the streets. It was thugs gunning down thugs for the most part, battling over territorial rights to extortion and payoffs.

Right up in Providence there was Danny Walsh, one of the big-time bootleggers. He was always having people bumped off. You could tip your hat the wrong way at Danny Walsh and that was it, your number was up. To Jeddy and me, all this underworld activity seemed glamorous. We knew the cast of characters, we knew the lingo. Like a lot of kids at that time, we followed gangland murders the same way we read the comics.

This body was real.

“Whoever he is, those gulls are going after him soon as we leave,” Jeddy said.

I examined the waiting flock. “You think they’d eat him?”

“Sure, why not. Gulls eat everything.”

“Well, there’s nothing to cover him with.”

“Scare ’em off,” Jeddy ordered.

For the next quarter hour, we threw stones and yelled and ran out in the water to make them fly away, which was a waste of time. Not a gull batted an eye. The whole group simply paddled sedately out of reach, then turned to stare at us again. Jeddy flung his cap on the ground. His temper could flare up quicker than mine.

“Stupid birds!”

“The only thing is to get somebody back here fast as we can.”

“All right. Let’s go.”

We began to run down the beach, stopping to heave more threatening volleys at the gulls. Even before we reached the first bend, we could see the flock edging closer to shore, getting ready to pounce.

“Cannibals,” Jeddy panted. “Wish I had a gun.”

Around the end of Coulter’s Point, we let loose and raced for our bikes.

The person who answered at the police station was the force’s part-time bookkeeper, Mildred Cumming. She sounded sleepy when she took Jeddy’s call, but she’d snapped to a moment later.

“A dead man? . . . Shot! Anybody from around here? . . . Right. I’m getting Charlie. Hold on, kiddo, don’t you go anywhere.”

From the stairs in Jeddy’s front hall, I heard everything. The McKenzies’ telephone was new to the house, a wall model tucked into a special alcove under the staircase. The town had paid to have it installed so Chief McKenzie could take calls at home. Jeddy wasn’t supposed to use it, but this was an emergency.

There was a long wait while Mildred went to get Charlie Pope, deputy sergeant at the station, who was most likely across the street at Weedie’s Coffee Shop, jawing and reading the papers. Normally, there wasn’t much that went on day to day in a hamlet our size. People knew each other too well. With only one road into town, any suspicious character who didn’t get noticed on the way in was sure to be pulled over on the way out. The whole police force amounted to only two individuals, neither of whom cared to carry a gun.

“This is me. Yeah, I heard,” Charlie told Jeddy when he got came on. “It’s a man, you say?”

Jeddy said it was.

“What’s he wearing, could you see?”

Jeddy explained about the evening suit.

“Your dad’s not here. Gone to New Bedford to see a fellow. Back in a couple of hours. I’ll try to get a message to him. You boys stay where y’are. I’ll be at your place soon as I can.”

“We’ll meet you at the beach,” Jeddy said. “There’s a pack of gulls down there getting at the body. We’ll stand guard till you come.”

This caused an explosion on the other end of the line.

“You stay put!” Charlie’s voice boomed out, so loud that Jeddy jerked the receiver away from his ear. “I don’t want you going down on that beach again! Now that’s an order!”

Jeddy rolled his eyes and said all right. About then, the front door opposite me opened and Marina came in, her dark hair loose and streaming from the wind. A single glance at Jeddy on the phone was all she needed.

“What happened?” she asked me.

“We found a body washed up on the beach.”

“A fisherman?”

“Probably not.”

“What beach?”


“What were you doing down there?”

“Looking for lobster pots.”

I avoided her direct gaze. With her hair blown that way and her face glowing from the cold walk home, Marina McKenzie was almost unbearably pretty. I was at the age where it embarrassed me to find myself noticing this.

“Did you get any?” she asked.

“No,” I said to the floor.

Jeddy finished his conversation with Charlie and put the telephone receiver cautiously back on its hook.

“We’re to wait,” he informed me. To his sister he said, “Charlie Pope’s coming.”

Marina wrinkled her nose. “That weasel, why him?”

“Dad’s in New Bedford. They’re calling him.”

“Is it anybody from around here?”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Lots of adventure and mystery. (VOYA)

Riveting mystery and nonstop adventure. (School Library Journal)

Meet the Author

Janet Taylor Lisle was born in Englewood, New Jersey and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, spending summers on the coast of Rhode Island. The eldest and only daughter in a family of five children, she was educated at local schools and at fifteen entered The Ethel Walker School, a girl's boarding school in Simsbury, Ct.

After graduation from Smith College in 1969 with a degree in English Literature, she enlisted and was trained for work in VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). She lived and worked for the next two years in Atlanta, Georgia, organizing food-buying cooperatives in the city's public housing projects and teaching in an early-child care center. Catalyzed by this experience, she enrolled in journalism courses at Georgia State University with the idea of writing about the poverty she had seen. This was the beginning of a reporting career that extended over the next ten years.

With the birth of her daughter in 1977, Lisle turned to writing projects that could be accomplished at home. In 1984, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, her first novel for children, was published. Subsequently, she has published ten other novels.

Afternoon of the Elves, a 1990 Newbery Honor Book, has been translated into six languages. It was produced as a play by the Seattle Children's Theater in 1993, and continues to be performed in children's theaters throughout the U.S. In this book, as in others she has written, the author plumbs a borderland between reality and fantasy where imagination holds sway and the ordinary surfaces of life crack open to reveal hidden worlds.

Elves, fairies and exotic creatures make appearances in her novels but whether they are real within the story, or merely imaginative projections of her characters, is often left unresolved.

"I think of magic as that which is still waiting to be discovered," the author has said. "I put it in my books to remind readers (myself included) to keep a sharp eye out. The unknown is everywhere, all around us and lurking even in our own minds."

She lives on the Rhode Island coast with her husband, Richard Lisle, and their daughter Elizabeth, a college student.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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Black Duck 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whats up wirh the roleplay
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Black Duck, It is truely a astounding novel writen for the minds of young readers so they might catch a glimps of true american enjinuity. Stariong Ruben and Jeddy, the two best friends are walking on the beach to "find" crab traps and return them to their owners so they can make a quick 15 cents, thats what kids in their spare time did. Janet Taylor Lisle set the perfect seen of the prohibition of liquir in 1929 in her work to. She showed the danger, risk, and adventure that occours once in a life time. In combinating with this Janet aslo sent a good example of what can happen when friends start to fight, it never ends well and it doesnt help to have money of vast proportions be the sparek to the fight.
sridvijay More than 1 year ago
I hated it. Boring. Slept a few times. Its just so boring. I like books too!
antmous More than 1 year ago
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! not that good i think that you sould ad more vocab words like donut :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is one of the best books in all time. very mistious, janet taylor lisle is a great author, i enjoyed this book and i fully recommend you to read it if you like misteries and actions.
AnthonyV More than 1 year ago
I am sad to say that before I read this book, I had no knowledge of the Prohibition at all. Other readers may enjoy this book the same way I did just because they learn something new while being taken back in time almost 100 years. The way the author wrote the chapters with alternating past to present prospectives keeps the reader wanting to read on. And the cliff-hangers leave the reader on the edge of their seats until the end of the ride. Most kids around my age never knew that at one point in time, alcohol was BANNED. Not limited. BANNED! Just the fact that at one time people illegally smuggled in liquor from international waters is interesting. A rum-running story is just naturally exciting. Who wouldn't be interested in high-speed chases and gangs? It's just this kind of adventure that makes reading fun. I'm pretty sure even an adult could learn something and enjoy this book as well. I could just go on and on about this book. It's amazing and I have nothing but praise for it.
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Jamman98 More than 1 year ago
I love this book! it is almost my favorite book I recomend it to people 9-20
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The main character is a young boy named Ruben Hart. He is about 15 years old.He is involved in the rum runing bisness.
The plot is that there is alot of problems with rum runing.Ruben is trying to get out of it but he cant.one day Ruben and his friend Jeddy wore walking on the beach and they found a dead body on the beach.when some rum runers that want the money for a big delivery find that the ticket is not with the body they loke for it.The only one how they think could have it is a old man with one eye but he did not have so the chase was on.
It takes plase in 1929 it is a true story.
I think the meneing of the story is to infourm and intertan.
I love this story because it cepes you on the end of your seat and it is full of information about history.
I can connect my self to the story because my life is full of action and I can connect it to world because the world is full of drugs and crime.
HalieM More than 1 year ago
I love this book so much,I think it's horrible that Ruben and Jeddy's friendship ended so easily.I think it's also sad that Jeddy dies at the end of the book,along with the crew(except for one man)of the Black Duck. I find it hard to explain how much I just love this book!I hope to reccomend this to many of my friends who are interested in a book about the history of rum-running.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
David's dream is to become a reporter. His father wants him to help run the family landscaping business.

David's dream leads him to a man, Ruban, with possible connections to the Black Duck, the famous rum-running boat during the prohibition in Rhode Island.

David tells Ruban that he's a senior in high school and might get published in the local newspaper. In reality, David is just starting his freshman year. Ruban reluctantly tells David some facts about the town during the time period, starting with the day that he and his best friend, Jeddy, found a dead body on the beach. When they went to alert the authorities, the body disappeared and the boys were warned not to talk about it.

Over the course of several visits, Ruban tells more of the story to David. Ruban's initial curiosity led him down a different path than Jeddy, as he wanted to know more about the body, more about the rum-runners, and even wanted to lend a hand. Soon he and Jeddy were at odds over the rum business. What started as an innocent curiosity led Ruban into danger that neither boy could have imagined.

The BLACK DUCK blends worlds with the interruptions between David's questions and Ruban's story. While Jeddy and Ruban had an amazing story, Ruban feels that the whole story isn't his to tell and that Jeddy owns a piece of it. However, with Jeddy dying, Ruban clears his mind of guilt and finishes the tale.

The BLACK DUCK is a unique historical fiction novel that will engage readers.
salguod More than 1 year ago
black duck is a very good read if you are about 13 and up it is very suspensfull and there are so many twists and turns you wont believe it.
if you like action/mystery books this is probably a good read for you. i loved it because it is very life like (based on a true story) and it involves people like normal parents that are in the buisness. ruben is one of the main charecters in the story and when he finds out that his dad is part of the buisness too he looses all control and respect for others. He and his two friends must get out of the hole they have dug before they get in too deep. this is a life lesson book for those who like it. READ THIS BOOK IT WILL SHOCK YOU AND YOU WILL READ IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. i did. Over the course of several visits, Ruban tells more of the story to David. Ruban's initial curiosity led him down a different path than Jeddy, as he wanted to know more about the body, more about the rum-runners, and even wanted to lend a hand. Soon he and Jeddy were at odds over the rum business. What started as an innocent curiosity led Ruban into danger that neither boy could have imagined.
the body they found was ontthe beach with no sign of anyone coming or going.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Black Duck is an excellent book for the classroom, especially for some of the more disinterested male students. It tells an interesting story full of mystery, danger, and historical references. Due to the historical nature of the book it can be used in connection with a social studies unit discussion on the time of prohibition. What I particularly like about it though is how it can be used to discuss interview skills and how to write an article. The story is told in flashbacks as a young boy interviews a man who lived through the time and was heavily involved in bootlegging. My male students have found the book particularly intriguing due to the slightly dark nature (due to the crime involved) and the action scenes. The author does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life and weaving a web of secrecy that blankets the world of bootlegging. Everyone knew it was going on, but nobody was sure who was really involved, making everyone a suspect in the small town.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Black Duck paints a strong painting of the prohibition law back in American history. The book shows excellent emotions and feelings in the characters, great transitions from interviews to chapters, and a melancholy yet excellent ending. My favorite part of the book was the author's notes that I truly relished. The only reason why I did not give this book five stars is because I, in my opinion, thought it was lacking some important visual details of the characters and the rum running ships in the novel. But other than that great job Lisle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Black Duck is an exceptionally well written historical fiction novel. The author has a way of incorporating mystery, suspense, and secrets to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down. Two boys¿, Ruben and Jeddy, lives are drastically altered the moment they find a washed up body on the beach during the 1929 Prohibition era. The beaches near their town are turning into smuggling centers for various rum-runners, including the infamous Black Duck, a boat known for successfully eluding the Coast Guard on numerous occasions. This is a great book to hook children into historical fiction books!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I hate saying this, but this is the first historical fiction text that I have EVER read. If all historical fiction is this wonderful, I'M HOOKED. It has action and characters that you wish you could really meet. If you like a good book, grab this one off the shelf.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was full of suspense, and kept me standing on my toes. This book is for anyone who loves historical fiction books, and for anyone who loves books with a ton of action in it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book the Black Duck is a book by Janet Taylor Lisle and it is a historical fiction book. Black Duck was an amazing book from beginning to end. The storyline about the prohibition laws and rum running made the book really suspenseful and a page turner. It took place in present day Rhode Island. But when the main character begins to tell his story it goes to the past in the early 1900¿s in Rhode Island as well. The major conflict in this book would have to be that the main character Ruben Hart and his friend Jeddy McKenzie find a body on the shore. They see that he has been shot and they also see a bootlegger¿s case a couple of feet away from the body. They have the suspicion that he is involved in the rum running. So they set off to figure out the mystery of the dead body. While they are trying to figure out the mystery they encounter many people and see a lot of things. One night when Jeddy was on his bike delivering some medicine he sees a famous rum running boat named the Black Duck. After that they decide to go to an old fisherman¿s house is name was Thomas. He had a belonging of the body in his possession and he tells them what he knows to help them out with the mystery. Then two big men go to old Tom¿s house and search it for a wallet and the watch he had in his possession. They ruined his little house and then one of the men trip on his dog named Viola and fires his machine gun at the dog. There are parts in the book where the author writes in third person view but then when they go to the past, the main character Ruben Hart narrates the story (first person). I would recommend this book Black Duck to anyone who likes history. The book is full o suspense and you wont be able to put the book down.