FATHER FELL DOWN THE WELL: CLASSIC STORIES FROM DOWN EAST

By Kendall Morse

Islandport Press, 2015

114 pages, $14.95

ISBN 978-1-939017-21-5.

American humor writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) once declared that there is a big difference between wisecracking and wit: “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.” Fortunately, Maine humorist Kendall Morse knows the difference.

Morse is a Machias-born storyteller and Grammy-nominated musician, member of the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, and former host of the popular TV show “In the Kitchen,” which aired on Maine Public Television. Morse’s second book, “Father Fell Down The Well,” is a collection of 85 hilarious stories that he hopes will make him rich.

A few of these stories have been told countless times and will be well-known to most readers, but they are still very funny. One was made famous by Mississippi humorist Jerry Clower years ago. Several seem like new material, but, regardless of age or source, these tall tales are knee-slappers.

In “Grover Pays a Visit,” Maine weather is the topic as two old-timers tell lies about it being “colder than a dead man’s tongue” and how on one foggy day a tugboat captain and a bag of potatoes invented Down East radar.

The Maine Dog Diner is the scene for many jokes. Uncle Warren (nobody knows or cares whose uncle he might be) complains about the Maine economy: “If it cost a dollar to go ’round the world, I couldn’t get out of sight.”

Other tales include the old lady who complains that a mouse got into her drawers, why Doc Payne’s name is most fitting, how Harry Plummer got the best of a rookie game warden and admits to being the biggest liar in the state of Maine, and why the town meeting was spoiled by too many Democrats.

One thing is certain — Diogenes would be lost in this crowd.

DEATH OF AN ALCHEMIST

By Mary Lawrence

Kensington, 2016

292 pages, $15

Limington author Mary Lawrence is as sharp as ever with this second volume in her clever “Bianca Goddard Mystery” series set in London in 1543.

London is as stinking, filthy, disease-ridden and dangerous as it was in Lawrence’s first mystery, “The Alchemist’s Daughter.”

Bianca is the married daughter of a disgraced former court alchemist implicated in a plot to kill the English king. She manufactures and sells malodorous concoctions as “medicinals and physickes,” using chemicals, herbs and roots for her potions, salves and tinctures, working out of a dirty hovel in one of London’s grittiest slums.

When she seeks the professional advice of aging alchemist Ferris Stannum, she unwittingly becomes involved with multiple murders, theft and pursuit of Stannum’s “elixir of life” — the mysterious serum of immortality.

Stannum is found dead, his alchemy journal is missing and suspicion falls on a host of liars, thieves, charlatans, cutthroats and even a respected physician.

Bianca doesn’t believe in the “dark art” or alchemy, turning stone into gold or creating immortality. But a rising epidemic of the “sweating sickness” is claiming victims, including her young husband, and she is desperate to find a cure. Maybe Stannum’s journal holds the remedy.

Bianca and her randy street vendor, Meddybemps, unexpectedly gain possession of Stannum’s journal, but she can’t decipher his coded entries, making them likely targets for robbery and murder.

Blood runs in stinking gutters already filled with offal and human waste, as Bianca finally faces a terrifying moral dilemma: Should man interfere with the natural order of life and death? Only Bianca and the Rat Man of the Thames know the answer.

Despite too much tiresome jargon (cucurbits, alembics and kerotakis) involved in complex descriptions of alchemy, this is an exciting and very satisfying historical mystery in Tudor England.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.