DISTILLED IN MAINE: A HISTORY OF LIBATIONS, TEMPERANCE & CRAFT SPIRITS

By Kate McCarty

American Palate, 2015

160 pages, $21.99

Alcoholic beverages have been part of Maine’s history since the Englishmen at the Popham Colony uncorked the first bottle of aquavit — “the water of life” — in 1607. Mainers have enjoyed their cocktails ever since.

Portland author Kate McCarty offers an entertaining history of booze in Maine in her new book, “Distilled In Maine,” a clever, humorous and perceptive look at alcohol, temperance and the current popularity of Maine’s craft distillers. McCarty is the cofounder of the Portland Spirits Society, a women’s whiskey appreciation group.

Although overpriced for a slim, softcover book, this is a fascinating, well-illustrated story, especially Maine’s 82-year history of prohibition (1851-1933) and the important role alcohol played in the state’s economy.

McCarty describes Maine’s colonial participation in the “triangle trade” (sugar, molasses and rum) and how employers often used rum as partial payment of workers’ wages, even offering drink breaks during the work day. She also explains why alcoholic beverages were safer to drink than local drinking water, how colonists used “freeze distillation” to make hard cider, and how the temperance movement began in Maine.

Learn how the “Twenty-eight Gallon Law” and patent medicines skirted early prohibition laws, how the “Father of Prohibition” was the mayor of Portland and why he was responsible for starting the violent and deadly Portland Rum Riot in 1855 and why a soda jerk is really just a bartender. McCarty also tells vividly of Maine’s role in rum-running, liquor smuggling and illicit liquor manufacturing during the Roaring Twenties.

McCarty reveals today’s complex state regulations governing who can manufacture, distribute and sell alcoholic beverages, and she highlights Maine’s nine craft distillers who make everything from rum, vodka and gin, to whiskey, brandy and blueberry moonshine. She also includes drink recipes like the Honeymoon, Marconi Wireless and the Widow’s Kiss.

RED DAWN: BEST NEW ENGLAND CRIME STORIES

Edited by Mark Ammons and others

Level Best Books, 2015

287 pages, $15.95

Well, it must be true: Good things really do come to an end. After a dozen volumes, Level Best Books has published its last short story crime anthology penned by New England writers.

“Red Dawn” is the last installment in this remarkably lucid and clever anthology series. Beginning with “Rogue Wave” in 2003, the series features short crime fiction by many of New England’s and Maine’s best mystery authors.

Here, 33 writers contribute well-crafted, original stories of murder, revenge, jealousy, robbery, greed and some fancy detective work by several unlikely sleuths. There is humor and mayhem and a few surprises, including one story containing the fewest words (a record of sorts, surely).

Seven Maine writers are among the contributors, revealing a collective sense of humor as well as creepy imaginations. In “Singed,” Dorothy Cannell tells of the proper English sister detectives Hyacinth and Primrose Tramwell and their much appreciated, felonious and shoeless butler named Butler (no kidding).

In “Fool Proof,” by Bruce Robert Coffin, a convicted murderer plans an elaborate escape from prison, but makes just one fateful mistake. Kate Flora’s “Nice Guy” finds a love-struck loser tangled up in domestic violence and a sudden murder cover-up.

Other stories include computer hackers pitted against one another in a real life-or-death drama, a smarmy playwright discovers that words really can kill, an arsonist makes a dreadful error, a man learns the hard way that two women scorned are twice as dangerous and a husband faces a life-changing decision — kill the wife or kill the mistress?

One of the best is Katherine Fast’s “The Wedding Gift,” with a rookie cop stumbling into a messy murder scene only to later learn it really isn’t. This is fun, suspenseful crime fiction — too bad it’s Level Best’s last.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.