JANE DARROWFIELD, PROFESSIONAL BUSYBODY

JANE DARROWFIELD, PROFESSIONAL BUSYBODY by Barbara Ross; Kensington Books, 2019; 265 pages, $7.99

Whoever said “Age is not important, unless you are a cheese,” never stayed at Walden Spring, a life-care retirement community in Concord, Massachusetts. Residents play bingo, dance, do yoga and commit murder.

This is the first volume in a new mystery series by popular Boothbay Harbor author Barbara Ross. She also writes the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and has been nominated for an Agatha Award and the Maine Literary Award for crime fiction.

This is a fresh, new approach for Ross. It’s a charming “cozy” mystery, with a delightfully original character, a well-crafted plot and loads of wry humor. Ross is off to a good start with this new series.

Jane is a retired corporate executive, in her 60s, independent, bright and nosy. She fixes thorny problems for her friends, like the annoying hairdresser or the noisy neighbor. Then she is hired by the director of Walden Spring to go undercover at the retirement community to “intervene” in touchy social problems he can’t (or won’t) handle.

Jane quickly discovers that Walden Spring is like a clownish high school full of old people — a social stewpot of rival cliques with bickering, petty jealousies and group feuds — old men and women behaving badly. Two groups in particular fight constantly, the golfers and the bikers (can you imagine?), until one resident is murdered.

The victim is not who he claimed to be, and neither is his elderly wife in the Alzheimer’s unit. Suspects abound — the ex-con, the hunky gardener, the wimpy director, the always-complaining old geezer, even the yoga class (some people just should not wear Spandex). A second murder and a late-night walk on the golf course almost end Jane’s budding career as a “professional busybody.” Think twice before moving to Walden Spring.

 THE VIGILANCE OF STARS

THE VIGILANCE OF STARS by Patricia O’Donnell; Unsolicited Press, 2019; 262 pages, $17

Whether people are young or old, affairs of the heart and family relationships are never easy, never simple and never without pain and heartache.

And Wilton, Maine author Patricia O’Donnell captures these complex emotions well in her latest novel, “The Vigilance of Stars.” O’Donnell is a professor of creative writing at the University of Maine at Farmington, and is the award-winning author of “Gods for Sale.”

Here, she tackles a vast range of human emotions — the heartache of misplaced love, rejection, loss of faith, depression and uncertainty while offering brief glimpses of hope, unity and forgiveness. There is no joy or humor in this story, just the stark reality of life as it really is and the decisions people make just to cope.

Kiya is a young woman, a hairstylist at a posh Portland salon. Peter is her boyfriend, a self-centered, banjo-playing arborist. Dating for two and a half months, Kiya becomes pregnant and thinks she’s in love. Peter, however, isn’t in love and wants nothing to do with Kiya or the baby, leaving her to face pregnancy and childbirth alone.

With a grim future ahead as a single mother, Kiya’s emotions ricochet from motherhood to abortion to adoption to possible suicide. Fortunately, Peter’s mother, Maddie, is a rock of strength and support and Kiya ultimately makes the right decision for herself and the baby.

A back-story set in the 1950s finds Peter’s grandmother being treated for cancer by Dr. Wilhelm Reich and his radical orgone energy radiation treatments, when such theories were publically ridiculed as quackery. This ties in obliquely to Kiya’s situation, but is still interesting.

Meanwhile, Peter finds some moral courage, his mother becomes closer to Kiya, and a scary scene on a remote island offers a new life and a chance for redemption for everyone.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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