THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD

By Brock Clarke

Algonquin Books, 2014

340 pages, $24.95

ISBN 978-1-61620-111-1

Despite its catchy title, the goofy characters in Portland author Brock Clarke’s satirical fourth novel would not know happiness if it landed on them. In fact, they all seem determined to lurch from one bad decision to another, fatefully subscribing to the “Let’s burn that bridge when we get to it” philosophy.

“The Happiest People In The World” is a hilarious spoof of American and European culture, politics, terrorism, marriage, romance, secret agents, small-town life, even the absurd advice of high school guidance counselors. This would be a wildly funny, unconventional spy and political correctness novel if its wacky characters and comic situations weren’t so sadly real.

Jens Baedrup is a political cartoonist for a small Danish newspaper, stagnant in his dead-end career and unhappy marriage. Challenged by his editor, Jens publishes a cartoon offensive to Muslims which only encourages a couple of slack-jawed teenagers to commit arson and murder. To protect Jens, the police spirit him away into hiding and he eventually ends up in the U.S., guarded by the CIA and working under a new identity as a high school guidance counselor in the small town of Broomeville, in upstate New York.

Jens the Dane is now Henri Larsen the Swede, adrift in a culture he barely understands, wondering who will try to kill him next. His CIA handler, the unbalanced, love-struck Locs, has disappeared, leaving Henri alone to steal another man’s wife and counsel pot-smoking teenagers that “everything will be just fine.”

Of course, nothing will be fine for anybody, and now a number of people want to kill Jens.

Bumbling, arrogant CIA agents are everywhere in Broomeville, killing the wrong people, getting in each other’s way until the final, surprising and deadly reckoning in the greasy barroom of the Lumber Lodge.

SHADOWS ON A MAINE CHRISTMAS: AN ANTIQUE PRINT MYSTERY

By Lea Wait

Perseverance Press, 2014

217 pages, $15.95

ISBN 978-1-56474-547-7

Edgecomb author Lea Wait is one of several Maine writers specializing in penning “cozy” mysteries, novels set in Maine and New England with female amateur sleuths whose detective work gets in the way of their real professions.

Just in time for the holidays, “Shadows On A Maine Christmas” is the seventh book in Wait’s popular mystery series featuring antique print dealer Maggie Summer. Wait has also earned critical acclaim for her young adult fiction, with titles like “Wintering Well” and “Finest Kind.”

“Cozy” mysteries are more cerebral than action-oriented stories, without gratuitous blood and gore, no explosions or car chases. Instead, violent crime is off-stage, the reader hears of the murder but doesn’t witness it. This may be a soft approach to murder, but it is very effective.

It’s December in Waymouth, Maine, where Maggie has come to spend Christmas with her fiance, Will, and his feisty, 92-year-old Aunt Nettie. Aunt Nettie and her aging friends are a close-knit group, best pals for decades.But they all have dark, dangerous secrets they’ve sworn to protect. And then they start to receive blackmail letters.

When a well-liked nurse and in-home caregiver is found murdered on Christmas Day, a state trooper and a sheriff’s deputy ask Maggie and Aunt Nettie to ask a few pointed questions of some folks. However, no one expected the answers they would get about the murder, blackmail and ancient history.

Maggie’s inquiries upset people, including the state trooper whose sudden, bizarre, irrational behavior and abrupt demand that Maggie stop her investigation stuns everyone. But Maggie won’t be deterred by anyone and she is determined to uncover the truth, not realizing the pain and embarrassment she might cause. And no one suspects the real killer until it is almost too late.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.