THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS

 

Ludka Zeilonka survived World War II in Warsaw, Poland, silently resisting the Nazis. Now it’s 2009 in Boston, and 85-year-old Ludka has a long-held secret and a dangerous family crisis — two challenges she must either act on or keep quiet.

“This Is How It Begins” is award-winning Maine author Joan Dempsey’s timely, suspenseful and powerful exploration of the very real conflict between religious freedom and civil rights. Dempsey is clearly a talented writer, unafraid to thoughtfully address controversial issues like sexual orientation and intolerance.

When Ludka’s grandson, Tommy, is fired from his job as a respected high school English teacher because he is gay, she finds herself recalling too vividly the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, the dehumanizing of an entire minority out of fear and ignorance. Ludka must be careful, however, for her wartime secret could be destructive if revealed.

Tommy and 11 other teachers are fired by the local school board, accused of promoting a homosexual agenda and for discriminating against Christian students. The firings are the result of a carefully orchestrated campaign of media and legal manipulation led by a popular radio talk show host and a flamboyant evangelical church leader (with ulterior motives).

This sets up a vicious political, legal and publicity war that results in threats, violence, vandalism and arson as each side maneuvers through arbitration, civil proceedings and state house legislation. And then one major player suddenly understands something isn’t right — maybe he’s just a pawn.

Meanwhile, Ludka decides to act, and her convincing testimony defending Tommy carries the day for those who believe Ramsey Clark’s words: “A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.”

Add theft, blackmail and a wartime betrayal and Dempsey has a provocative hit.

SHIVER HITCH: A JANE BUNKER MYSTERY

 

Maine author Linda Greenlaw is well known for her nonfiction books, like “The Hungry Ocean” and others, as well as being the female swordboat captain portrayed in the hit movie “The Perfect Storm.” She lives on Isle au Haut, and now writes a mystery series featuring Jane Bunker, a lady cop in coastal Green Haven, Maine.

“Shiver Hitch” is the third book in the series. The knot titles are fitting, too, because Jane ties herself up in complex and thorny crime investigations. Greenlaw is a talented writer, but she is not in the same league as Maine mystery writers Paul Doiron, Kate Flora, D.A. Keeley and Gerry Boyle.

Jane was a hotshot police detective in Miami, shuffled out of Florida into relative obscurity by some unclear scandal. Now settled in Maine, living above a bakery, she works as an insurance investigator and Knox County deputy sheriff.

Sent offshore to Acadia Island (where she was born) to document an insurance claim after a house fire, she discovers a dead body in the rubble. The victim is a rich woman who everybody hated; then the accidental fire and death quickly turn into arson and murder. And here is where the wheels come off of Jane’s credibility as a crackerjack homicide detective. She disturbs the crime scene, moves the body herself, forgets to turn in critical evidence, focuses on just one suspect (without any direct evidence), lies about a co-worker’s injuries and generally makes a fool of herself. It’s hard to cheer for someone so inept.

Still, she muddles through the investigation until a hard-charging county dispatcher and cop wanna-be digs up the evidence Jane needs to clear the case. If Greenlaw has another knot mystery out there, let’s hope it’s more tightly tied up than this one.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.