THE DAM COMMITTEE
By Earl H. Smith
North Country Press, 2011
259 pages, $15.95
ISBN 978-0-945980-96-4
 
Fictional Belfry, Maine, is one of those wacky small towns where the locals know just about everything about everybody’s business. One thing they don’t know, however, is who made off with dead Doc O’Neil’s half million dollars.  Well, actually four people know — and they’re not saying.

THE DAM COMMITTEE is Earl Smith’s debut comic mystery novel, a hilarious yarn full of malaprops, puns and funny scenes, as well as a dead body, a claim of self-defense and a missing suitcase full of cash. Smith’s first book was the non-fiction MAYFLOWER HILL (University Press of New England, 2004).

Smith is a funny guy, with a wry and pointed sense of humor, and the refreshing ability to effectively and accurately poke fun at small town politics, gossip, relationships and the often untidy way things unfold when a town scandal is particularly juicy.

Harry and Nibber are members of the town dam committee (you can see a lot of jokes coming from that). The night ex-con Doc O’Neil is released from prison he is gunned down by his wife who claims self-defense.

Nosy Harry and unwashed Nibber sniff around the crime scene later that night and find Doc’s hidden treasure.

Harry’s wife and Nibber’s girlfriend are in on the caper, and the four decide to keep the money, despite knowing that the cops and a nasty Boston gangster are after it, too. They begin spreading the money around town in anonymous charitable gifts, creating some very funny scenes at church and the annual town meeting, even as the police and unwanted publicity close in on them.

Harry, however, smells a rat in the self-defense theory, and it will take some clever detective work, devious trickery and good luck to expose a clever murder plot.  But what happens to all that money?

HELL IS SO GREEN: SEARCH AND RESCUE
OVER THE HUMP IN WORLD WAR II
By William Diebold
Lyons Press, 2012
262 pages, $22.95
ISBN 978-0-7627-7273-5
 
William Diebold is one of those veterans of World War II who never fired his weapon, never killed an enemy soldier. In fact, he was proud of the fact that his job was to save lives, not take them.

HELL IS SO GREEN is Diebold’s memoir of his wartime experiences in the China-Burma-India theater of war in 1944-1945, as a member of an air rescue unit of the Army Air Transport Command. Diebold (1917-1965) wrote this manuscript in 1946, now masterfully edited by Richard Matthews, a freelance writer from Phillips.

Excerpts from this manuscript were published in magazines in 1946 and 1947, but this is the first time it appears in book form.  And it is a treasure of vivid, graphic wartime experience in Tibet and northern Burma.  As Matthews correctly declares:  “It is only as you read of the heat and stink of the jungle, of the vermin, lice, and leeches, of the towering mountains and roaring rivers, that you begin to realize just what kind of story this is.”

Young Lieutenant Diebold would parachute into remote mountain and jungle sites to locate and rescue downed American flyers whose planes crashed while flying supplies from India over The Hump (Himilayas) to China.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner, Diebold would befriend local Naga and Kachin natives (often with one hand on his pistol, just in case), search for the missing aviators, treat their wounds, and either carry them out or raft them down raging rivers to safety. Only one of his many rescues ended in failure.

This is an inspirational and rousing true adventure tale, loaded with wisecracks, suspense, native customs, jungle and mountain fieldcraft, and the wild escapades of a young man who eagerly volunteered for every mission.

— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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