NORTH BY NORTHEAST: NEW SHORT FICTION BY WRITERS FROM MAINE AND NEW ENGLAND

Portland publisher Littoral Books has a well-deserved reputation for quality writing, boldly addressing thorny social issues with care and insight.

“North by Northeast” is Littoral Books’ most recent short-story anthology, featuring 13 contributors (10 from Maine) and 17 perceptive and provocative stories. The editor, Agnes Bushell, is an award-winning novelist (“The House on Perry Street”) with a keen eye for writing talent, and she has recruited an impressive group of writers for this collection.

These are stories of men and women confronting the consequences of decisions — past and present, some they made, others imposed on them — all with life-changing possibilities. Recurring themes of death, dying, love and loneliness will touch every reader, for the stories reveal life as it really is, not as we wish it would be.

Joshua Bodwell’s story, “What Is Stolen Can Never Be Returned,” finds a foul-mouthed bitter old widow fed up with her low-life neighbors and getting into the trouble she should have seen coming. In “Smoke,” by Rita Doucette, a widower’s attempt to save his wife’s gravesite from flooding gathers some much-needed help that solves one problem, but creates another for everyone.

The best is Shirley Glubka’s “Still Life with Skull,” a poignant tale of an elderly man and woman, former lovers years ago, reuniting for one tender weekend of loving memories before one of them dies. This story will tug at every reader’s heartstrings.

Other stories include a woman stranded in the desert on the run from someone or something, an alcoholic bartender serving drinks to other boozers, a dysfunctional hippy commune, and the profane wisdom of a dying man taking his last cruise on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II.

 A FICKLE TIDE: A PYKE ISLAND MYSTERY IN DOWNEAST MAINE

Lots of people think they can write a mystery, but few ever write anything, and fewer still are actually any good at it. Fortunately, Maine has a small number of debut mystery writers who have the imagination, organization of thought and writing skills to craft a good mystery story. Moe Claire is one of them.

“A Fickle Tide” is Moe Claire’s first mystery in a series of murder and mayhem mysteries on fictional Pyke Island. Claire lives Down East, overlooking Frenchman’s Bay, and has created a complex, tightly-woven story with subtle clues, sharp misdirection, exciting suspense and clever plot twists.

Claire’s main character is Del Corriveau, a bright and resourceful young woman kidnapped from a local bar on a cold January night by a sinister man desperate to get off Pyke Island. She is bashed in the head and left for dead, but survives the ordeal and the kidnapper vanishes.

The police launch an intensive search for the kidnapper and his possible connection to an FBI investigation into the disappearance of a shady Hollywood movie producer from his island vacation home. Del knows more than she tells, however, and needs the help of her father’s bodyguard (a man with special skills) and an eager freelance photographer to keep herself from disappearing while she investigates on her own.

And then strange things happen — a mute burglar tries to deliver a cryptic message; a dead body appears; a deputy sheriff acts oddly; the producer’s Canadian housekeepers vanish; a secret chamber is discovered; money is missing, and somebody is a rat. And the FBI and the crooks don’t believe Del’s story.

Readers must pay attention to the clues and evidence, but that’s the point of a good mystery, isn’t it? And watch out for the tides.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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