THE DAUGHTER OF FRANCIS MARTIN

By Virginia Chute

Just Write Books, 2013

202 pages, $19.95

ISBN 978-1-934949-69-6

 

Maine author Virginia Chute’s second and last historical novel is a triumph of historical storytelling, focusing on the incredible hardships and unforgiving religious intolerance forced on English settlers in New England in the 1600s.

Chute (1924-2013) lived in Poland. Her first novel, “The Remembrances Of Marietta Lufford,” was also a form of morality play set in the same period.

This novel is based on actual historical events and people in the years 1625-1647, a period of political upheaval in England (the English Civil War) and early settlement in Maine. Chute added color and atmosphere by writing in the same style of 17th century flowery and verbose language: “Hath I not given her back to Him you did not but now hopefully commend me to?”

Anyone who has read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 classic, “The Scarlett Letter,” will see similarities to this story, but Chute carries the plot to new heights.

Merchant Francis Martin, of Plymouth, England, goes to Maine with two daughters in 1640, hoping to establish a profitable trading business in the new colony. His eldest daughter, 15-year-old Mary, and her younger sister, Francie, work tirelessly with their father, but hard times, bad luck, poor harvests and declining business opportunities drive them into poverty and near starvation.

Now desperate, Mary is vulnerable and is taken advantage of by two unscrupulous men with predictable results, including the shame and humiliation of being shunned as an unrepentant sinner. Mary is a victim, but in the eyes of the church and the law, she is a criminal.

Best, however, is Chute’s graphic portrayal of grim, uncertain life in the 17th century, exposing the hypocrisy of the church and the unfair, brutal treatment of anyone who violates church or civil law. There is no joy here, just tragedy and heartache.

 

MI’KMAQ SUN

By John Prescott Heald

Reck House Press, 2014

321 pages, $17.95

ISBN 978-0-9824848-8-3

 

John Paul Theriault is a petty smuggler, hauling cigarettes by dog-sled across the Maine border into Canada in the dead of winter. He is content with being a small-time operator and won’t handle guns or drugs, but then he is asked to smuggle something else from Canada back into the U.S. Suddenly, his life becomes very complicated and dangerous.

“Mi’kmaq Sun is John Heald’s debut mystery novel, an ambitious, complex and suspenseful tale of smuggling operations, murder, treachery and the realization that you just can’t trust anybody anymore. It is also a vivid and stark depiction of harsh, unforgiving life on an Indian reservation with its crime, poverty and hopelessness.

The Mounties on the Canadian side are trouble enough, efficient and intractable, but John Paul now has a determined ATF agent named Bergeron on his back, too. And when he loses one smuggled load and hides another during a winter forest pursuit, he also gains the most unwelcome and unpleasant attention of some very lethal enemies.

John Paul is a smart, resourceful Army veteran, and a Mi’kmaq himself, but now he’s up against some serious bad guys who have a plan he’d rather not think about. Bergeron is an aging, overweight, alcoholic renegade cop who is sleeping with John Paul’s mother, but even he is not prepared for the brutal torture and murders connected with John Paul’s latest smuggling adventure.

Other side plots compete with the main theme here, diluting some of the suspense and the flow, but the unusual relationship between John Paul and Bergeron carries the story, especially Bergeron’s clever, unsanctioned actions when he finally figures out what’s going on. The ending may seem a bit uneven and incomplete, but getting there is all the fun in this gritty mystery.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.