If “irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up,” as American writer George Saunders claims, then Maine author Elaine Ford turned the ironic short story into a modern, impressive art form.

Ford (1938-2017) wrote five novels and numerous published pieces of short fiction, including this collection of 15 stories about Maine people and the choices they make in life. Ford chooses marginalized characters — men and women who know what would make them happy but who possess neither the energy nor the skills to attain it. And years later they just give up.

Her stories are sad, containing little humor and less hope, but the irony is that her characters still dream despite knowing that this is as good as it gets.

In “In the Marrow,” a teenage girl takes a chance to break out of a dead-end job in a dead-end town. But her options are few and her choices are bad, resulting in heartache and a final understanding: “We don’t make other people’s luck. We make our own.”

In “Elwood’s Last Job,” a desperately lonely man robs the local laundromat, much to the amusement and then fear of the three women washing clothes.

In “Suicide,” two mismatched people meet, share some insight and then wonder which one is considering suicide. In “Millenium Fever,” a dissatisfied, middle-aged wife thinks she has one last chance for happiness and is stunned to discover that her husband has known all along. Other stories include unhappy married couples thinking about former lovers and what might have been and unfaithful spouses who rationalize their bad behavior.

Ford’s writing is uncomfortably visceral — she creates characters and situations that are all too painfully real. The more flaws she reveals in her characters, the more we see the same in ourselves.

. . . . . . . . .

When schoolteacher Gwen McPhail receives a threatening phone call in the middle of the night, she thinks it’s just a prank. However, a letter from a lawyer the next day could mean the late-night call wasn’t a prank after all.

“Blind Man’s Bluff” is a cozy mystery from the prolific writing sisters, Sadie and Sophie Cuffe. The Cuffes live on a Down East farm and write mysteries and romance novels. This is the first book in the Candle Island mystery series. Like most cozy mysteries, there’s no gratuitous bloodshed, violence or profanity but plenty of suspense, clever foreshadowing and subtle clues.

The lawyer’s letter informs Gwen that she has inherited the Maine island estate of wealthy Vance Jones, an old-time business partner of her father years ago, a man she knew only as Uncle Jonesy. She cannot understand why she would inherit his estate — he wasn’t really her uncle and she hadn’t seen or heard from him in decades.

Jones’ property is on Candle Island, acres of land with a huge, lavish mansion that Gwen instantly hates for its extravagant opulence. As soon as she arrives on the island, she knows something is very wrong. Jones’ disinherited widow and son hate her, the islanders are coolly suspicious and the estate’s taciturn caretaker is clearly hiding something. More troubling for Gwen are her nagging doubts about Jones’s death. He fell off the cliff at Blind Man’s Bluff: but was it an accident, a suicide or murder?

As she tries to untangle the Gordian knot of lies and half-truths, Gwen discovers that Jones wasn’t a nice man — nobody liked him and nobody misses him now, and her questions are making some people very nervous, others angry.

And that phone call was no prank.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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