DARKNESS FIRST

By James Hayman

Witness Impulse, 2013

461 pages, $7.99

ISBN 978-0-06-230170-3

Fans of diabolical mysteries have probably heard of Portland author James Hayman and his first two best-selling chillers, “The Cutting” and “The Chill Of Night.” It is hard to believe he could top those two books for riveting suspense and taut action, but he has.

“Darkness First” is a gritty, fast-paced crime mystery set in Washington County amidst its economic despair and deadly drug culture. Two Portland homicide detectives try to track down a vicious killer — a man no one knows, who leaves no witnesses and no clues — a man who doesn’t exist.

Detective Maggie Savage and Detective Michael McCabe are summoned to Washington County by the county sheriff, Maggie’s father. Her best friend, the local doctor, is found barely alive at the scene of a grisly murder. The Maine State Police troopers are handling the investigation, but Savage worms her way onto the task force because of her knowledge of the local area and its residents.

The murder victim and the attack on the doctor may be connected to a drug (Oxycontin) robbery in nearby Canada, but all the police leads seem to end up with just more dead bodies, and the cops cannot figure out the links. And the man who doesn’t exist is always one step ahead of the police.

While McCabe follows up on a hunch with a newspaper reporter, Savage thinks maybe an 11-year-old girl has the clue to the drug robbery and the killings. Getting in the way, however, are an unfaithful husband, several uncooperative citizens and two state troopers who desperately want to solve the case, but for very different, deadly reasons. Then Savage’s brother is framed and on the run, armed, scared and determined to settle a score.

HISTORIC SHIPWRECKS OF PENOBSCOT BAY

By Harry Gratwick

The History Press, 2014

141 pages, $19.99

ISBN 978-1-62619-091-7

Vinalhaven author Harry Gratwick was wise to select a quote from Roman poet Ovid to set the tone opening this book: “The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea.”

Shipwreck truly is a frightening experience, vividly described in Gratwick’s collection of stories covering nearly 300 years of Maine’s maritime history. This is his sixth book of Maine history, including “Hidden History Of Maine” and “Mainers In The Civil War.”

This, however, has a purely maritime theme, describing a variety of notable shipwrecks in the waters of the Penobscot Bay region. Maine’s coastal waters have always been dangerous for mariners with its hidden shoals, underwater rocks, foul weather, contrary winds and thick, persistent fog. Primitive navigation aids like lights, buoys and bells helped sailors avoid known hazards, but sometimes bad judgment and worse luck conspired to drive a ship up onto the rocks.

Gratwick tells of the dramatic shipwrecks of steamships, sailing ships and warships, with some crews and passengers rescued, some lost and even one lifeboat with 11 men never seen again.

He tells of the infamous Captain Henry Mowat, Royal Navy, who bombarded and burned Falmouth (Portland) in 1775, then was later disgraced when he ran his ship, HMS Albany, aground in 1782. Other stories include the wreck of a former Confederate commerce raider, C.S.S. Georgia, in 1872; the tragic loss of the fishing schooner Neptune’s Bride in 1860; the burning of the Royal Tar, a circus ship, in 1836; and why Matinicus Island has a “Dead Man’s Beach.”

Best, however, is his story of the wreck of the S.S. Polias, a ship made of ferro-concrete, off Port Clyde in 1920. This is a fascinating story of shipwreck, rescue, mystery and unsuccessful salvage — and it proves that Ovid was right.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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