THE CONTEST

By James Hurley

Islandport Press, 2013

248 pages, $22.95

ISBN 978-1-939017-10-9

 

Englishman Izaak Walton (1593-1683) once reflectively wrote: “God never did make a more calm, quiet and innocent recreation than angling.”

Of course, neither God nor Walton had counted on the disparate members of the Samuel Tippett Fly Fishers Club of Maine to muck it up.

“The Contest” is author James Hurley’s thoughtful and clever novel about the aesthetics of fly fishing and the foibles of once-jovial men who finally discover “how small and corrupt and ignoble a world can become when one loses sight of one’s intentions, and how they are pursued.”

This is more an intricate morality play than a treatise about fly fishing, although the fishing sets the stage for what will become an ugly test of civility and friendship.

Hurley is a crafty writer, lulling the reader into relaxed comfort as 10 men form a fishing and drinking club in the tavern of the Crossing House Inn in northern Maine.

Then, with careful humor, warmth and foreshadowing, Hurley’s initial light-hearted tale takes a serious turn when the members of the fly fishing club, fueled by alcohol and misplaced testosterone, decide to have a contest to settle the macho debate over which is best — the dry fly or the wet fly?

When Benedict Salem (BS to his pals and for good reason) and his friends begin the fishing competition on the river, the brittle facade of fairness, sportsmanship and respect quickly crumbles. Rules are disputed, good-natured ribbing turns into snarky insults and accusations of cheating surface.

Then a tragic event occurs which shocks the men, making them see what jerks they’ve become, but the price paid for this lesson is steep and painful. This is an excellent story of men and fish and how best to enjoy both.

 

WITHOUT WARNING

By David Rosenfelt

Minotaur, 2014

304 pages, $25.99

ISBN 978-1-2500-2479-4

 

When a time capsule is dug up in the town of Wilton, Maine, folks are surprised to find a dead body laying on top of it. But, it’s the contents of the time capsule that will really scare people.

“Without Warning” is an apt title for award-winning Damariscotta Lake mystery writer David Rosenfelt. This is his 17th mystery, 11 of which feature lazy attorney Andy Carpenter. But this book is one of his six stand-alone mysteries, and is a crisp thriller certain to please fans of diabolical suspense.

The time capsule was buried five years before, but Wilton Police Chief Jake Robbins discovers that it contains a stack of ominous predictions. One predicts that his wife will die and, in fact, she was murdered eight months after the capsule was buried. Another prediction notes a fatal arson case, also occurring after the capsule’s burial. What is the purpose of these deadly predictions?

Other cryptic predictions are more difficult to figure out, but when folks start dying in unusual ways, Jake begins to see a disturbing pattern. His challenge now is to decipher the remaining predictions before the next death. The local newspaper, meanwhile, sees this story as a potential Pulitzer Prize winner and quickly links the rash of deaths to the chief (he had motive and opportunity for each death). Soon people begin to wonder about his involvement: Is he a target, a victim or a perpetrator? And damaging leaks from his own department don’t help.

Jake has a long history of savvy law enforcement and is a decorated war hero, so he quickly sees where this investigation is headed, but is powerless to stop it. Resourceful, unorthodox and ruthless, he wisely decides to take care of this himself in this satisfying whodunnit.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.