BAR HARBOR BABYLON:  MURDER, MISFORTUNE, AND SCANDAL ON MOUNT DESERT ISLAND

Lots of folks like to hear of a juicy scandal, especially if it involves wealthy aristocrats who have more money than morals. And Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island in the 19th and 20th centuries had some of the juiciest scandals, most decadent behavior, oddball characters and even a murder or two.

“Bar Harbor Babylon” is a fascinating collection of true stories that trumpet the arrogance of wealth and the bad behavior that results — scandal, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, madness, unrestrained greed, corruption, fraud, theft, assault and murder. The authors, Dan and Leslie Landrigan, live in Stonington and operate the New England Historical Society blog.

These tales read like lurid tabloid stories, all the more sensational because they are true and depict famous family names like Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Rockefeller. The stories are tragic, sad, often incredulous (How could people act that way?), but always fun and surprising. And behind all the glamour and glitter of Bar Harbor’s Golden Age lurked misery and mayhem.

The Landrigans tell how a swindler, “the black sheep of the founding fathers of Acadia National Park,” used stolen money to buy Cadillac Mountain. They describe Joseph Pulitzer’s posh Chatwold estate, his weird phobia and the curious Tower of Silence. Another story tells how an extortionist publisher fleeced tycoons like Morgan, Vanderbilt and Charles Schwab using ingenious blackmail schemes.

Other stories include the curse of the Hope Diamond, the Bar Harbor multimillionaire whose children competed to see who could spend the most money the fastest, the “Case of the Murderer in the Kitchen,”  and the 1921 crime where the butler really did do it.

Learn how a Bar Harbor celebrated beauty made men “look like idiots,” and why several sensational society murders remain unsolved.

 

THE BODY IN THE WAKE:  A FAITH FAIRCHILD MYSTERY

When caterer and amateur sleuth Faith Fairchild goes for a refreshing summertime swim in Lily Pond, she never expected to share the cooling waters with a dead body.

“The Body in the Wake” is Portland author Katherine Hall Page’s 25th Faith Fairchild mystery (after “The Body in the Casket”). This is not only a clever, dark mystery, it is also a sharp commentary on Maine’s opiod crisis and its associated criminal activity. Page has won three Agatha Awards, and this mystery is certainly worthy of recognition.

The theme is timely — rampant drug abuse, destroying families through addiction, crime and murder — and Page paints a grim picture of greed, desperation and ruthless measures on Sanpere Island. Faith and her friends, Sophie and Pix, are preparing for Pix’s daughter’s upcoming island wedding, fussing with all the details and fending off the arrogant meddling of the groom’s high society mother.

The body in Lily Pond is an unidentified young man sporting a distinctive tattoo and the letters “LFDY.” A second unidentified dead man is found tied to a lobster buoy, and he has the same tattoo and letters. Now folks are really concerned. So Faith, Sophie and Pix begin their own investigation.

The three women start to notice other odd things, too. Arson, vandalism, strange characters at the writers’ conference at the local island resort, the resort chef’s peculiar herb garden, Pix’s abusive and threatening neighbors, and the surprise meaning of the tattooed letters “LFDY.”

Add another murder, a tricky and smooth undercover DEA agent, and a risky break-in and search for evidence that goes horribly wrong, and Faith and her pals are in big trouble. There is a lot of family soap opera drama here (the wedding), but stick with the mystery for an exciting tale.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.