“A STORY OF MAINE IN 112 OBJECTS: FROM PREHISTORY HISTORY TO MODERN TIMES”

Edited by Bernard P. Fishman

Tilbury House Publishers, 2018

448 pages, $39.95

ISBN 978-0-88448-377-9

American author David McCullough said: “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” And the one place to learn the most about the history of Maine and its people is at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.

The one book that best introduces the museum and Maine’s history is Bernard Fishman’s “A Story Of Maine In 112 Objects,” as told through the museum’s extensive collections. Fishman has been the director of the museum since 2012, overseeing exhibits, research and the collection of thousands of artifacts.

This colorfully illustrated, high-quality product is the impressive result of a clever idea — select 112 objects from Maine’s prehistoric period to today, and let them tell Maine’s history. The artifacts are interesting in themselves, but they are really just the entry points for numerous periods of Maine history. For example, fossil plants, skulls and mammoth teeth introduce the geologic period, leading then to 4,000-year-old spear points and a Norse coin from 1070 A.D. (found at Brooklin in 1957).

There are artifacts of documents, furniture, weapons, textiles, tools, vehicles, machinery and inventions that reveal how Mainers lived and worked years ago. A leather shoe and a wooden tankard from a sunken warship lead the to the dramatic story of the disastrous Penobscot Expedition in 1779 (near Castine), which was America’s worst naval defeat until Pearl Harbor. The Navy Colt revolver surrendered by a Confederate officer to Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg in 1863 introduces Maine’s Civil War history.

Learn about the purchase of Maine by Massachusetts in 1677, about the Potato Boy ad campaign in the 1940s, about the three German POWs who escaped from Spencer Lake in 1945 and about Maine’s last hand-cranked telephone system in 1983. This is fun, fascinating history that is well-presented.

“DEATH AND A POT OF CHOWDER: A MAINE MURDER MYSTERY”

By Cornelia Kidd

Crooked Lane Books, 2018

330 pages, $26.99

ISBN 978-1-68331-583-4

In the world of Maine mystery fiction, this state probably has the highest murder rate in the country. And Maine islands seem particularly unhealthy, especially on Quarry Island where folks think they know everything about everybody, and they’re wrong.

This “cozy” mystery is the first book in a new mystery series by Cornelia Kidd, better known as Lea Wait, the talented Edgecomb author of two other popular mystery series, “Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries” and “Antique Print Mysteries.” She knows a lot about murder and how to package an entertaining, clever mystery story.

Carl Winslow is an island lobsterman — single, handsome, popular with the ladies and now dead, floating in the ocean with a bullet hole. Islanders are shocked, especially Burt and Anna, Carl’s brother and sister-in-law. And when the state police arrest Burt for Carl’s murder, Anna knows she must solve the crime and save her husband.

However, Anna is a housewife in a family struggling to makes ends meet and mother to a surprisingly moody and angry teenage son; she’s certainly no detective. Fortunately, she is smart and well-organized and has some help. The younger sister she never knew she had shows up unexpectedly, bringing a set of sharp knives and a new perspective. A neighboring retired homicide cop adds focus and direction to Anna’s personal investigation.

An incriminating murder weapon, a drained bank account, state lottery winnings squandered and dark suspicions of lies, stunning island secrets and visceral motives lead Anna and her sister to look at everyone carefully, even Burt. And the state police detective really stirs things up. Quarry Island is in for a rough time.

Add a youthful chef looking for a new home and some curious recipes — like how to make Browned Cod’s Head and Egg Wine — and a sequel is obvious.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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