It’s 1882 and the Old West hasn’t been tamed yet. Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok are dead, but notorious Tom Spooner and his gang of murderous owlhoots are robbing stagecoaches, banks and trains, and killing folks just for fun in New Mexico and Texas. And U.S. Marshal Dale Posey thinks he knows how to stop them.

“The Devil’s Waltz” is an exciting and entertaining western by Ethan Wolfe (the pseudonym of a popular Maine author who lives in the Lakes Region). Fans of well-crafted western stories will love this one — loaded with gunsmoke, gunplay, snappy dialogue and well-ventilated baddies littering the plains.

Marshal Posey offers a full pardon to a convicted outlaw sitting in Yuma’s territorial prison. The convict is his younger brother, Lightning Jack Posey, a gunslinging former saddle pal of Spooner. Since Jack knows Spooner and his methods, Dale wants Jack to help track down the outlaw.

Jack readily agrees, but not because he gets out of prison with a pardon. His reasons are much more greedy, sinister and visceral, and his brother doesn’t know. The two men embark on a dangerous wild pursuit of the Spooner gang, but a deadly ambush leaves Jack to continue on his own. Jack’s temporary deputy badge begins to weigh heavily on his chest and his conscience.

Tracking the Spooner gang brings Jack into contact with some real-life western figures who add laughs and spice to the tale: Calamity Jane as a horse-faced, unfragrant and randy prairie playmate; the infamous lady outlaw Belle Starr; and the drunken jurist Judge Roy Bean.

Lightning Jack is well-named, handy with an assortment of man-killing tools and the final showdown is suspenseful — filled with hot lead and tricky plot twists. And keep your eye on Old Scout.

……………..

American satirist Will Durst hates the outdoors: “To me the outdoors is where the car is.” But then he doesn’t live in Maine where most folks enjoy being outdoors.

Fortunately, Maine has Aislinn Sarnacki to help people get started with outdoor recreation as spring and summer arrive. Sarnacki is the award-winning outdoor reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She lives in Dedham and loves to hike.

“Family Friendly Hikes In Maine” is her first book, a handy guidebook featuring 35 hiking options well-suited for children, adults and family outings, as well as anybody who just wants to enjoy short, easy hikes in beautiful locations.

Maine has hundreds of miles of hiking trails, but Sarnacki’s focus is on short trails (2 miles or less) with easy to moderate difficulty. Each hike chapter provides a helpful trail map, a colorful description of what hikers will see and do, as well as useful information on accessibility (some hikes are wheelchair accessible), dogs, restrooms, cost (some areas charge a nominal fee) and directions.

These hikes all allow public access and are generally owned by towns, preservation groups and the state. Sarnacki selected hikes throughout Maine, inland and on the coast. For example, the Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson has numerous short, easy trails along with two fun scavenger hunt trail games. Beechnut Hill Preserve in Rockport has an old stone building that may have been a German spy hideout during World War I.

Sarnacki also adds sage advice for avoiding “the scariest creature in the Maine woods,” along with wise suggestions for hike preparation. Best, all of these recommended hikes expose children and families to history, geology, nature and wildlife, with enjoyment, wonder and life lessons for everyone.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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