DEATH OF A WICKED WITCH:  A HALEY POWELL FOOD AND COCKTAILS MYSTERY by Lee Hollis; Kensington Books, 2020; 297 pages, $7.99.

DEATH OF A WICKED WITCH: A HALEY POWELL FOOD AND COCKTAILS MYSTERY

Bar Harbor has never seen a food fight like this — burgers, sub sandwiches, mayo, ketchup, pickles, French fries, two rival food-truck owners, a poisoned candy apple and murder. If this was a restaurant review it could be called “Dine and Die.”

“Death of a Wicked Witch” is a cozy murder mystery, the 13th in the Haley Powell series by the Maine-born-and-raised brother and sister writing team known as Lee Hollis. They’ve also written two other mystery series and contributed to several short story collections.

This is a fast-paced, clever mystery set in Bar Harbor at Halloween, featuring Haley Powell, the middle-aged, newlywed, columnist for the local newspaper. When Haley meets Trudy Lancaster, a town newcomer, she’s thrilled that Trudy will open a new food truck in competition with the nasty owner of the Burger She Wrote food truck.

Food-truck rivalry is fierce and deadly. The night of the town’s glamorous Witches Ball, one food truck owner is murdered and there’s only one obvious suspect. Haley is curious and decides the police are not moving fast enough, so she’ll investigate on her own. She discovers clues that make her wonder if there are other suspects, and then people say they’ve seen the victim’s ghost wandering around town (of course, they do, it’s Halloween).

Haley soon realizes there really are multiple murder suspects including a soon-to-be divorced husband, a furious wife, a lecherous old minister, a drunk socialite, a man with two lives, even a young vocalist who can’t sing. As she investigates, Haley gets much-needed help from two Portland private detectives (from “Murder at the PTA”), the ghost is uncovered and so is the real motive for murder.

Skip the corny young-love romance and the cocktail and food recipes and just enjoy this engaging murder mystery.

 

TRUE NORTH:  FINDING THE ESSENCE OF AROOSTOOK by Kathryn Olmstead; Islandport Press, 2020; 169 pages, $17.95.

TRUE NORTH:  FINDING THE ESSENCE OF AROOSTOOK

American essayist Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946) once wrote: “What I like in an author isn’t what he says, but what he whispers.” That thoughtful comment aptly describes the writing of Caribou author Kathryn Olmstead.

Olmstead is a long-time Maine journalist and columnist for the Bangor Daily News and co-founder of Echoes magazine. She was not born and raised in Aroostook County, but has lived there since 1974, and has truly come to love the place and its people. “True North” is a collection of 39 previously published essays about the county, covering nearly 30 years of thoughts, observations and commentary, “whispered” carefully in her vivid prose.

Olmstead writes about the county — its land, people, wildlife, heritage, work ethic, natural beauty and traditions, vignettes of things and events. In “Ice Out” she describes the annual Aroostook celebration of impending spring, when winter ice leaves the county’s lakes and rivers. In “Rags, Rugs, and Refuse” she tells of old-time residents’ self-reliance and ingenuity, and how they reused or repurposed nearly everything that today people just throw away.

In her evocative essay “Alone?” she reveals that she lives alone, but is never really alone — she has the night sky and stars, the Aurora Borealis, the fox family, the mother moose and her calf, the visiting black bear and her own warm thoughts. She revels in winter’s quiet solitude and crisp beauty: “I breathe in the cold air deeply and pray for those who would consider my world a dream.”

Other essays explore the county’s rich Scandinavian and Acadian cultural heritage; the Arootsakoostik Music Festival; how to relocate pesky red squirrels without guilt; a pothole flat-tire lesson in community; and how she regrets missing an interview with an old woman about a special pine tree.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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