Books by Gerald McFarland


Flat true-crime tale that carries some weight as social history. McFarland (History/U. Mass.; A Scattered People, 1985) had the nifty idea that "a controversial crime could provide an excellent starting point for studying a community and the social tensions that afflicted it. . ." Searching library stacks, he stumbled across the Russell Colvin murder case. The facts mystify: Colvin, a "weak-minded" laborer, vanished from Manchester, Vermont, in 1812. No body was found, but seven years later his brothers-in-law, Stephen and Jesse Boom, were convicted of his murder. As Stephen's date for death by hanging approached, the missing man turned up alive—but was it Colvin or a hired double who stunned Manchester with his reappearance? McFarland, who sees an impostor at work, adds flesh to these bones with a reconstruction of the trial, portraits of the chief players, and ample information on early 19th-century folk beliefs (vampire plagues, ghosts), penal methods (branding), vices (horse-racing, gambling), and so on. The background successfully places the crime in its social context, but McFarland's journeyman prose rarely ventures beyond straightforward reporting of the facts. Good case, dull presentation. Read full book review >