WITHIN PLAIN SIGHT: A DETECTIVE BYRON MYSTERY by Bruce Robert Coffin; Witness Impulse, 2020; 418 pages, $12.99

For most people, life is a mystery. For a homicide detective, murder is the mystery. And few are better at unraveling that mystery than Portland Police Detective Sergeant John Byron.

“Within Plain Sight” is the fourth book in Maine author Bruce Robert Coffin’s excellent crime series featuring the redoubtable homicide cop John Byron. Coffin is an award-winning mystery writer. He is also a retired homicide detective with the Portland Police Department, so his mysteries ring with the grim realism of authentic police investigative procedures, as well as vividly accurate portrayals of cops, suspects, witnesses and the opportunists who seek advantage in crime and tragedy.

It’s the summer of 2017, and Byron is looking at the decapitated body of a young woman found discarded in an abandoned lumberyard. And he’s worried. This looks like the work of a Boston serial killer dubbed “The Horseman.” Byron is a veteran cop who is no longer surprised or shocked by what people do to each other. This case, however, makes him angry and he will find the killer no matter what.

Of course, nothing will be easy. Once the victim is identified, suspects and possible motives quickly appear and multiply but scant evidence and false clues lead to frustration and short tempers. Worse, however, are targeted leaks to the media from inside the police department that jeopardize the investigation and threaten more than one career. And then the victim’s head is found.

Add a lying security guard, a drunken witness, an arrogant Hollywood movie star and her dysfunctional family, an abusive boyfriend, an inept safecracker, a ruthless developer and his creepy bodyguard, a couple of smarmy restaurant owners and some police officers playing a dangerous game, and Coffin has cooked up an exciting, fast-paced mystery that is hard to put down.



ALL IS CALM: A MAINE CHRISTMAS READER; Edited by Shannon Butler; Islandport Press, 2019; 160 pages, $19.95

It may seem odd to be reviewing a Christmas book in June, but considering the stress and uncertainty during the national health crisis, now actually is the perfect time to embrace the Christmas spirit once again. Who says we have to wait until December?

“All is Calm” is a wonderfully refreshing anthology of 40 essays, stories and poems about Christmas from 1863 to today, culled from books, magazines, newspapers and memoirs. Editor Shannon Butler is a Maine native, her hometown is Caribou, and she now lives in Kennebunk. This is her first book, a delightful diversion to the happy times of family traditions, holiday spirit, generosity, kindness, community and the goodness in people and life.

Some authors are well-known like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Cole and Bill Caldwell. But others are more obscure men and women of Maine. Their stories are funny, warm and poignant, full of hope, joy and inspiration.

“Christmas on the Lightship,” written in 1925 by Hal Cram, tells how the 12-man crew of Portland Lightship No. 76 celebrated the holiday while standing watch 24 hours a day, anchored 10 miles outside Portland harbor. Funniest is Trudy Chambers Price’s 1984 story, “Launching a Holiday Tradition,” about how her sons convinced her to help put a lighted Christmas tree on top of the family’s 70-foot farm silo (and she’s scared of heights).

“At the Mall With Santa” is reporter Joanne Lannin’s 1993 story describing her interview with Robert Farwell, a dedicated mall Santa who enjoys keeping the fantasy alive, especially for small children who still believe. Most tender is reporter Edward Murphy’s 2017 story about Noah Ames, a Matinicus lobsterman who gives away free lobsters to any family in need at Christmastime. And that generosity is a good example for everyone.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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