STRAW MAN: A JACK MCMORROW MYSTERY

By Gerry Boyle

Islandport Press, 2016

325 pages, $24.95

ISBN 978-1-939017-93-2

Gerry Boyle is certainly one of Maine’s most popular mystery writers, as evidenced by his long-running mystery series featuring freelance journalist Jack McMorrow. And his fans will surely agree that his 11th McMorrow mystery, “Straw Man,” is his best yet.

Boyle also has an excellent mystery series about a rookie Portland police officer, Patrolman Brandon Blake, but it’s his McMorrow series that sets the standard for original plots, gripping suspense, fast action and surprising twists. “Straw Man” has it all.

It’s autumn in rural Waldo County, and Jack and his two best friends, Clair and Louis, run into four timber pirates illegally harvesting logs on private land. A brutal fistfight results, with the four scumbags slinking off, battered and bloody, threatening to kill Jack and his pals.

Jack’s marriage is in trouble, too, as his wife, Roxanne, is strongly influenced by a smarmy pacifist, Mr. Organic Pretty Boy, and Jack is jealous of their cozy relationship. Meanwhile, Jack is working on two lucrative stories: one about the ease of gun sales in Maine (no background checks), and the other about an Old Order Mennonite community nearby.

The four timber pirates are low-life ex-cons and wife beaters, and their harassment and intimidation of Jack and his family frightens everybody but Clair and Louis. Both men are multi-skilled combat veterans with a clear view of the situation: “I’m all for pacifism, but I’m not gonna die for it,” says Clair as he loads his shotgun.

And Jack’s two stories suddenly become connected in a terrifying way, involving ATF agents, local and state cops, murder and a powerful message from a formidable opponent called the Bishop. And the cops don’t believe anything Jack says.

Fortunately, Clair and Louis watch Jack’s back, and the pacifist Lothario reveals his true nature.

RETIRING TO, NOT FROM: FROM MASSACHUSETTS PROFESSOR TO MAINE FARMER

By John H. Twomey

Maine Authors Publishing, 2016

164 pages, $19.95

ISBN 978-1-63381-070-9

Maine’s favorite literary figure, E.B. White (1899-1985), wrote a humorous and pretty accurate thought about farmers: “A good farmer is nothing more than a handyman with a good sense of humus.” And Maine farmer John Twomey would probably agree.

“Retiring To, Not From” is Twomey’s excellent personal story of his transition to farm life after working as a college professor for 37 years at the University of Massachusetts. He retired from teaching in 2009 and moved to his farm in Montville in Waldo County.

Twomey has owned the 125-acre farm since 1978, but he and his wife, Leigh, live there year-round now, enjoying a satisfying life of hard work, self-sufficiency and the beauty and bounty of Mother Nature.

He is dedicated to sustainability, firmly believing in land and wildlife conservation. The farm is not a commercial operation; rather, it is a subsistence farm. He sells nothing, but uses everything. It is solar-powered, entirely off the grid, heated with wood and they grow all their own vegetables and fruits. They raise chickens for eggs and meat. They even stock two farm ponds with brook trout.

Among the 17 chapters, Twomey discusses how they grow 39 varieties of vegetables, grow fruit trees and harvest apples, pears, cherries and peaches, manage 30 acres of fields and 95 acres of woodlands, as well as use every resource and opportunity to encourage pollinators, wildlife, beneficial insects and birds.

He uses no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but offers tips on soil preparation, mulching and composting, along with ideas for canning and winter storage of food, and tips for managing garden pests and protecting fruit trees from hungry critters.

Twomey operates under the “principle of simplicity,” using uncomplicated technology, working with nature, not against it. A refreshing attitude, indeed.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.