NOW YOU SEE THE SKY

It is a rare book that makes the reader so uncomfortable that it is hard to read, but even harder to put down. Portland author Catharine Murray’s memoir, “Now You See the Sky,” is so real, so tender and so painful that its impact will be felt long after the last page.

This is the frank, unvarnished true story of a parent’s worst nightmare — the slow, agonizing death of a child taken too young by cancer, and a mother’s unimaginable fear, grief, guilt and sense of loss. It is also a poignant, inspirational story of faith and courage, as Murray and her family face the harsh reality of childhood cancer.

It must have been very difficult for Murray to tell this story, so personal yet so necessary, but she writes with such honesty and clarity, sure to evoke strong reader reactions.

In 1989, Murray was a 23-year-old American aid work at a refugee camp in northwestern Thailand. Immersed in Thai culture and society, she met and married her husband, Dtaw. They made a happy home in Dtaw’s village, raising three sons.  Then their middle son, 5-year-old Chan, is diagnosed with leukemia, beginning the agonizing physical and emotional misery of chemo, radiation, a failed bone-marrow transplant, and the sad realization that this sweet, tender little boy is going to die.

Murray tells of trying to reconcile two very different cultures, American and Thai, and of her powerful emotions during this ordeal: “I lived always on the edge between desperate fear of his death on one side, and the joy and exaltation at the thought of his getting well on the other.” Chan died in 2004, leaving Murray to wonder: “Why does life disappear like water falling through my fingers?”

BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST: A BERNIE O’DEA MYSTERY

It’s a hot, humid June in the mountains of western Maine, and the rugged, heavily forested terrain conceals a killer. An experienced thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail has been found dead in her tent, and Bernadette (Bernie) O’Dea wonders why.

This is central Maine author Maureen Milliken’s third Bernie O’Dea mystery, following “Cold Hard News” (2015) and “No News is Bad News” (2016), the series featuring small-town newspaper editor and amateur sleuth Bernie O’Dea.

Milliken is a former journalist, and she nicely folds in timely events readers will easily recognize. The murder mystery is a real puzzler, but the main plot is diluted with the overwrought soap-opera drama of personal problems and romantic entanglements. Follow the mystery and skip the hand-wringing angst.

The state police too quickly rule the hiker’s death a suicide, but the local police chief and fire chief know it’s murder. And Bernie is suspicious, too. The cause of death and other evidence make no sense, but the state cops refuse to listen.  When the police chief disappears in the mountains, Bernie and the fire chief begin a dangerous investigation of their own.

A manhunt is already underway in the mountains for a vicious killer on the run, and a secretive burglar called the Midnight Rambler stalks the woods, too. And there may be another murderer — long thought dead — hiding out in the forest. The town of Redimere, Maine, seems to attract killers and thieves.

Add a trio of the dead hiker’s too-helpful friends, a curious trash collector, two smarmy irresponsible online newspaper hacks, a missing witness, four long-ago murders, a very smart female police sergeant, a gruesome injury and a peculiar method of murder, and Milliken offers an engaging story.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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