FORGOTTEN TALES OF DOWN EAST MAINE by Jim Harnedy

Good storytelling is considered a high art form in Maine, and Machiasport author and storyteller Jim Harnedy is in good company with this entertaining collection of 27 fascinating stories of Maine lore.

Several of these stories have been kicking around for a long time, and will be familiar to readers. Others are much less well-known, and will provide a bit of intrigue and curiosity. Harnedy includes stories of ghosts, oddball events, scoundrels, UFO aliens and peculiar history, along with some fun, charming Maine characters.

In “Who Really Discovered America?” he suggests that the Irish, Celts or Vikings were the first Europeans to land in America hundreds of years before Columbus. Of course, indigenous peoples were already here and didn’t need to be discovered — they knew where they were.

“The Serpent of Pocomoonshine Lake” is a tall tale about a lake monster spotted in 1882 as told by someone who “had seen a man who saw the man who said he saw a giant snake” in the water. And there really is such a lake near Baileyville.

Another legendary story is “The Missing White Bird,” a biplane flown by two World War I pilots in 1927, flying across the Atlantic from France to America (before Lindbergh). It is believed the plane made it to America, but then disappeared over Maine. No trace has ever been found.

Other stories include an 1850s political party called “The Know-Nothings” and the shameful trouble they caused in Ellsworth; the elaborate and successful gold swindle in Lubec in 1897; and the bloodless “Pork and Beans War” with Canada in 1838-1842 (not a shot was fired).

For more interesting reading, see “It Happened in Maine” by Gail Parker (2004) and “Strange Maine” by Michelle Souliere (2010).

 

RANDOM ACT by Gerry Boyle

Newspaper reporters are normally armed with a cellphone, a notebook and pen. Jack McMorrow, a stringer for the New York Times, also carries a Glock semi-automatic pistol and sometimes a lead pipe or lug wrench. Jack can be annoying and he likes to be prepared, either to take notes or bash somebody — sometimes both.

“Random Act” is the 12th volume in Maine mystery writer Gerry Boyle’s excellent series featuring the redoubtable Jack McMorrow (following “Straw Man”). The series began in 1993 and just keeps getting better.

Jack is a very good reporter — tenacious, thorough and devious. He won’t lie in his stories, but he will lie to get them. And he will need all his skills to catch a killer and help a friend. There are two parallel stories here, unconnected, but equally suspenseful and well-written.

While shopping for a toilet at Home Depot, Jack comes upon a brutal murder in the garden center. A nutcase has chopped a woman with a hatchet, and Jack suddenly finds himself part of the story. He feels obligated to understand such an apparent random act of violence. Meanwhile, his Iraq war veteran friend, Louis, is unexpectedly visited by his high-school sweetheart, a mysterious woman on the run from a murder in the Caribbean, with $2 million in cash in the trunk of her car. And Jack doesn’t believe a word of her fantastic story.

Jack’s investigation into the Home Depot murder leads him into the dark labyrinth of the local homeless shelter, where good intentions and good deeds may hide something else. And then the U.S. Marshals show up looking for Louis’s girlfriend. Jack and his pals must load up their weaponry because now things look very bad for everyone.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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