Book Him

To paraphrase Darwin, reinvention is the mother of iguanas. Adapt, learn to burrow, or perish like some clueless great auk. That's the creed of the survivor.

Richard Marinick has survived many things. A friend once told him, “Ricky, you're a murder waiting to happen,” but he ignored the warning and carried on robbing armored trucks. Gangs, gunfights, prison, even graduate school — Marinick has weathered them all. He's what the Irish call “a hard man,” and at 53, he fits the moniker (literally, as he seems to have the body-fat ratio of graphite). But can even a hard man survive the pointed quills of the book critics? Marinick will find out this month when his debut crime novel, Boyos, is published by Justin, Charles & Company.

Reinvention is why Marinick wrote his book. Reinvention is the reason he didn't die in some squalid page 2 Herald story about guns and money. To imagine how much reinvention it took him to get from birth to book contract, note that here's a man who used to live with a grenade rigged to his cellar door as a burglar alarm. Very few fiction writers do that. Not even Danielle Steel.

Marinick's novel, which chronicles the crimes and squabbles of a violent group of gangsters, begins like his own story: in South Boston. As a young man in the '70s, he was a dabbler. He carried ice at Combat Zone strip clubs. He worked the door at the Rathskeller when punk was as fresh as a bloody steak. He even made a pilgrimage to Okinawa to study karate under the famous master Kanei Uechi. Eventually, he found himself working for the Massachusetts State Police, Topsfield barracks. One day, while he was hosing brains off his raincoat after attending a double-fatality crash on I-495 near Haverhill, he thought, “I'm doing this for $150 a week?” So he quit and took up as an armed robber.

“I felt like a big cat, with the city as my jungle,” says Marinick. He isn't speaking with Irish braggadocio, but with the measured inflection of a man who's swallowed his psychiatric counseling. “It's an overused term, but I had a lot of anger issues.”

Jimmy Armstrong, a friend and member of Marinick's crew from those days, says, “We had some episodes where Ricky was beating people pretty bad, but I didn't know him well enough to tell where that violence was coming from. It was never for no reason.” This was back when Whitey Bulger was ordering people sliced into chum, and Southie crackled with misused cutting torches. Marinick saw his best friend bleed to death after being shot while trying to rob a Wells Fargo truck in Malden.

The crime spree ended at a roadblock in North Adams in 1986. What followed was an atypical salvation. “When I came into prison, I was trying to change 10, 15 years, maybe a lifetime of bad activity.” Prison isn't usually a civilizing agent, but Marinick enrolled in the Boston University Prison Education Program at MCI-Norfolk, and, with his customary energy, he set off on the path to accredited-degree enlightenment.

When he left in 1996 — praising the healing triad of church, therapy, and BU — he was a man renewed. True, he was 46 years old and living with his mother, but he had a master's (summa cum laude) and had laid the early germ of an ambition. Marinick wanted to write an Irish version of Martin Scorsese's gang movie, Mean Streets. And he wanted to do it as a novel.

It was hard work returning to the chrysalis, but over the following years, Marinick regained his social feet, joined a tunnel-workers' union, and ended up on the Braintree-Weymouth dig, a 2.7-mile wastewater tunnel project. It was there, in the shadow of the big drills, that he first put pen to paper on Boyos.

“I'm writing my story in the mud and snow, and my friends were saying, 'You're not going to get that thing published.' I answered, 'I've got more chance of getting this published than you have of hitting that scratch ticket.'”

The manuscript passed among friends, then strangers with Rolodexes, finally making its way to Justin, Charles & Company publisher Stephen Hull.

“At first I was a little skeptical,” says Hull. “But this work is excellent.”

Marinick's novel is, if not of the brutalist school, then of the roughly handled one. It's bruised and pocked with his memories. The characters have names like Leppy Mullins and Wacko Curran; they double-park their cars on Dorchester Street and fire shotguns in anger. One of them even lives with a grenade rigged to his cellar door as a burglar alarm.

A Hollywood producer has optioned Boyos as a screenplay, and Hull has now optioned a second novel. Deep in middle age, Marinick's life has sprouted wings.

“And a year and a half ago,” he says, “I was digging a hole.”