Private investigator Ed Traynor’s normal caseload involves insurance fraud, missing persons and messy divorces. Now, however, it’s murder, and the victim is John, Ed’s younger brother. Ed is mad and somebody is going to pay in blood.

“My Brother’s Keeper” is Stockholm author Vaughn Hardacker’s fifth mystery/thriller and the second mystery featuring private investigator Ed Traynor (“Black Orchid”). Hardacker is a three-time finalist for the Maine Literary Award, an honor well-deserved and long overdue. His mysteries and thrillers are hard-hitting, gritty stories of murder and mayhem, heavy with graphic violence and constant plot twists.

Ed’s brother John is a low-level petty crook and drug dealer, killed in an apparent drug deal rip-off. The brothers are estranged — one an ex-cop, the other a bum — but Ed still feels grief, anger and guilt over John’s death.  He vows to get John’s killer, permanently.

Ed’s investigation reveals John’s involvement in a $3 million armed robbery of a drug kingpin’s “bank,” but Ed can’t believe John was smart enough or brave enough to pull it off. Still, the money is gone, John is dead and some bottom-feeding dirtbags think Ed knows all about it.

He is a tough customer, unencumbered by morality or legal niceties. He beats up witnesses and anybody else who gets in his way, discovering the missing $3 million actually belonged to some other really serious bad guys. He also discovers his brother was smarter than anyone expected, setting off a chain reaction of drug gang double-crossing, betrayal, torture, multiple murders and wild gunfights.


Watch carefully for clues. Hardacker is clever with suspense and misdirection, but the clues are there for the observant reader. Even Ed finally tumbles onto the real killer, the real motive and where the money really is. And it will be a surprise.



In London during the 16th century, the dark art of alchemy was big business. Alchemists were secretive, obsessed dreamers and schemers who believed they could turn base metals into gold if they could just find the right combinations of materials and fire. One alchemist’s experiment has produced not gold, but a far more dangerous and deadly substance: “the stone of death.”

“The Alchemist of Lost Souls”  is award-winning Limington author Mary Lawrence’s fourth historical mystery (after “Death at St. Vedast” in 2017) set amid the squalor and poverty of 1540s London featuring Bianca Goddard, a young woman who concocts “medicinals and  physickes” in her own stinking hovel. Lawrence has created an ideal blend of historical narrative and suspenseful mystery in Henry VIII’s Tudor England.

Bianca’s father, a disgraced royal alchemist, has created a volatile stone that produces flame, toxic gases and an eerie green glow. However, the stone is stolen, a woman is brutally murdered and the stone disappears. Evidence implicates Bianca’s mother and father, so she helps the bumbling constable investigate the crime to protect her parents.

Bianca has solved murders before. She is bright and redoubtable, now pregnant, with her husband conscripted into the king’s army. The more she investigates the theft and murder, the more she realizes that the people closest to her are more deeply involved than she ever imagined. She encounters thieves, shysters, whores, bounders and cads, multiple murders and discovers (too late) that there is more than one killer and more than one motive. And she must lie to keep a painful secret.

Rich with historical color and smell, clever clues and foreshadowing, this is Lawrence’s best mystery yet. Learn about the “philosopher’s stone,” and about “plucking roses,” the “botanical canker blossom” and why “stew” isn’t from a can of Dinty Moore.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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