On April 15, 1920, two men carrying the cash to pay employees of the Slater and Morrill shoe factory in South Braintree, MA were robbed and murdered. Two Italian immigrants, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 31, and Nicola Sacco, 29, were arrested for the crimes. They were later tried, convicted and executed, an outcome that led to much debate that continues to this day. Author Rick Geary covers this case in his graphic novel, The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.
This is the first true crime graphic novel I have ever read, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the format lends itself to the story. Geary’s illustrations have a quality of belonging to the time period-I got almost an “Untouchables” era type of feeling from them. Despite the space limitations, Geary captures facial expressions very well, in particular the smug look on Judge Thayer’s face as he declares that “no bunch of parlor radicals can intimidate Web Thayer.” The black-and-white drawings also present the case in a serious, non-cartoonish manner.
The narration is presented nicely, with enough text to cover the story but not so much that it overpowers or distracts from the pictures. The story is divided into logical parts and is easy to follow through its evolution from a local case into one that gained worldwide attention due to the defendants’ involvement with anarchist causes and the possibility that they were framed because of their beliefs.
The front of the book contains three maps to show where the crime, arrests, trial and other key events of the case took place, as well as where important locations such as the residences of the accused were. One map also shows the crime scene in more detail, tracing the route taken by the victims and showing the position of key witnesses and buildings. The third map gives locations throughout the world where protests and bombings over the case occurred. These maps were very helpful for orientation with the case, and I found myself referring to them frequently as I read the book.
The ending did leave me with an unfulfilled feeling, but I believe that is due more to the facts of the case and its history in the years since 1920 than any deficiency on Geary’s part. He presents the arguments, both for and against the suspects’ guilt, concisely and without bias, leaving the reader to decide whether justice was done.
All in all, I enjoyed the book and recommend it, especially for people who enjoy unsolved cases or crimes set in the early 20th century.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti from the publisher, NBM Publishing, for the purposes of this review. However, the opinions contained within this review are mine alone and are not influenced by NBM, Rick Geary or any other party. I was allowed to keep the book, but I was not instructed or asked to write a positive review or compensated in any other way for this article.