top of page

Behind the Book of A Matter of Mercy

The lawsuit depicted in this novel is based on fact, although none of the characters in the book should be construed as being modeled on specific people involved in that event. I do not know anyone involved in the suit personally. My knowledge of it was gleaned strictly from public records, especially reporting in The Cape Cod Times. I have tried to depict the history of the area and aquaculture in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, with accuracy and sensitivity. In this I have been immeasurably helped by Barbara Austin, an aquaculturist whose grant lies off Indian Neck. In a sense, I met Barbara by accident as I was wandering around on those flats literally getting my feet wet as I questioned (i.e., bothered) various aquaculturists. One of them—probably to get rid of me—said, “You really ought to talk to Barbara Austin; she’ll help you.” And help me she did, immeasurably, during a number of visits to a place now as dear to me as the rest of the outer Cape has always been.


Barbara loves to read and was interested in my project, but she probably would have helped anyway, because her heart is as exceptional as her expertise. She was generous with time, with technical explanations and demonstrations, even going so far as to let me put on waders and “work” a bump rake (i.e, get in the way) on her grant. She taught me to cull, took me to the hatchery in Dennis and as she made deliveries in Chatham. On the Shellfish Advisory Board, Barbara loaned me Wellfleet harbor management plans and made suggestions for further reading. She also introduced me widely to her colleagues and answered questions tirelessly in person and by phone. Because of her, it became critical to me to imbue A Matter of Mercy with not only the intricate knowledge and skill involved in shellfishing, but its expansive spirit: how the aquaculturists live in respectful harmony with the tides and the ecosystem of the bay.


Other Wellfleet aquaculturists were also kind and detailed in their responses to questions.

Books consulted include Wellfleet: A Cape Cod Village by Daniel Lombardo, a useful history of the town, and The Outer Lands, A Natural History Guide to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island, and Long Island by Dorothy Sterling, Illustrated by Winifred Lubell. The rangers at the Race Point station of the Provincelands National Seashore were uniformly helpful regarding the ecology of the area.

bottom of page