Murder at the PTA, by Lee Hollis, Kensington Books, 2019, 314 pages, $7.99

MURDER AT THE PTA

To be a really good private detective, you must do five things — be an ex-cop, carry a gun, drink cheap bourbon, have a lousy marriage and an empty bank account. And Portland PI Maya Kendrick checks all the boxes.

“Murder at the PTA” is the first book in a new mystery series by a brother-and-sister team writing under the pseudonym Lee Hollis. Born and raised in Maine, Hollis already has two successful mystery series, the Haley Powell Mysteries and the Desert Flower Mysteries. This is a fun mystery with a solid plot and a cast of colorful characters, all of them carrying baggage of lies, secrets, deceit and the potential for violence.

South Portland High School is tense as a slander website called “Dirty Laundry” airs unfounded allegations of corruption, infidelity and drug abuse targeting students, faculty and even the president of the PTA. Sandra Wallace, PTA president and cynical wife of a U.S. Senator, is outraged and embarrassed by a DL allegation of her husband’s involvement in a sex scandal.

Private Investigator Kendrick’s daughter attends the school, and asks her mom to find out who is behind the DL website. But the same day Maya identifies the culprit, the webmaster is found dead. The cops quickly rule the death a suicide, but Maya thinks it’s murder.

Maya and Sandra team up, the pro and the amateur, to investigate the death, uncovering a tangled, lethal web of liars, cheating spouses, police corruption and a life insurance policy with a surprising beneficiary. Add a bigoted sexist, an angry father, a clueless coach, a conniving Broadway actress, cowardly school officials, a husband in prison, water balloon-throwing teenage boys, and women who talk too much and find themselves in real trouble. And the PTA is no help.

 

Wild Critters of Maine: Everyday Encounters by Tom Seymour; Just Write Books,  2019; 167 pages,  $24.95.

WILD CRITTERS OF MAINE: EVERYDAY ENCOUNTERS

Albert Einstein once wrote: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” And naturalist Tom Seymour tries to do that every day.

Seymour is an award-winning columnist and author of numerous books on plants, foraging, fishing and hiking, even a book on nuts and berries of New England. He lives in a cabin near Waldo, and is a keen observer of nature, especially wildlife.

“Wild Critters of Maine” is his latest book, containing fun, fascinating personal observations and commentary about the animals, birds, fish and insects living in Maine today. This, however, is not a scientific field guide loaded with obscure factoids; rather, it is a series of anecdotes, things he has learned over the years by being patient, observant and curious.

His section on mammals includes the expected moose, deer, fox and raccoon, but he also adds coyote, bobcat, woodchuck, muskrat, cougar and hare. As he relates, bobcats and lynx are not the same, the muskrat’s stinky odor has a purpose and he reveals that hare are not rabbits.

The sections on birds and fish tell about unusual birds like snipe, soldier birds and the peculiar parenting habits of cowbirds, and fish like brown trout, char, perch and smallies.

“Crawly Things” is an interesting section on insects, including scary insects like the June bug, burying beetle, wasp, earwig and dragonfly. Seymour likes insects (except ticks and mosquitoes), and is happy to report that June bugs don’t bite, Ichneumon wasps may be really scary-looking but are harmless to humans and dragonflies are “among the most beneficial of insects.”

Learn about the moose’s most feared (and disgusting) predator, why hares run in circles when pursued and which tree frog produces its own bodily antifreeze to survive the Maine winter.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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