SORRY FOR YOUR TROUBLE by Richard Ford; Ecco, 2020; 258 pages, $27.99.

SORRY FOR YOUR TROUBLE

An unknown pundit once wrote: “A relationship is what happens between two people who are waiting for something better to come along.” If that is even half true, then the characters in Richard Ford’s latest short story collection will be waiting a long time.

Ford is a well-known Maine writer, lives in East Boothbay, the best-selling author of eight novels and six short-story volumes, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for literature (“Independence Day” in 1995). “Sorry For Your Trouble” contains seven short stories and one novella, all dealing with flawed relationships as men and women grasp for meaning and connection — and all are disappointed.

The stories have geographic links with Maine, Louisiana, Ireland, New Orleans and Paris, and nearly all feature lawyers with husbands, wives, lovers and friends finally realizing that life never turned out the way they wanted. In “Nothing to Declare,” a lawyer in New Orleans meets his college lover 35 years later, providing a brief, bittersweet interlude with both knowing there is no spark and their memories aren’t important anymore.

In “Crossing,” an American on an Irish ferry grimly contemplates his upcoming divorce and wonders “if the entire passage of life, years and years, is only actually lived in the last seconds before death slams the door.” In the novella, a lonely widower discovers that “being a widower is not the same as being single,” and even a questionable friendship won’t happen.

Other stories include superficial friends at a memorial gathering; why an election gets a man punched in the face; and how a man and woman justify the infidelity of their four-year affair as just an easy, meaningless accommodation. Readers won’t find humor, relief or inspiration here, but Ford provides plenty to think about.

MAINELY FEAR: A GOFF LANGDON MAINELY MYSTERY by Matt Cost; Encircle Publications, 2020; 289 pages, $16.99.

MAINELY FEAR: A GOFF LANGDON MAINELY MYSTERY

Brunswick, Maine is not a town known for its high-profile private investigator work, which is why PI Goff Langdon is tired of slimy divorce cases and skip tracing. In fact, he has so little to do he owns the Coffee Dog Mystery Bookstore just to keep busy. He is also basically lazy.

“Mainely Fear” is author Matt Cost’s second volume in a mystery trilogy, following “Mainely Power.” He lives in Brunswick and much of the story takes place there, so the Brunswick locations will be very familiar to readers. He’s changed the names of the businesses, but it’s easy and fun to figure out what’s what.

Cost tells a pretty good mystery, too. Langdon is the featured PI in the trilogy, involved in crime, mayhem, cops and violence, as well as thorny personal problems and some risky behavior. It’s January 1998, in the midst of the Great Ice Storm, and a robbery crew of teenage boys is hitting vacant homes for loot and vandalism. After the boys are caught and in jail, the mother of one boy knows her son, Jamal, is guilty, but she hires Langdon to find out who put her son up to it.

This is an odd case from the start, as Langdon and his willing associates (think drinking buddies) see two possible angles. One leads to the boys’ posh prep school in Skowhegan and its grim history of student suicides and staff misbehavior. The other leads to a shady Boston nightclub owned by Jamal’s uncle, a crime boss known as Fast Eddie.

After someone tries to kill Langdon, he is then framed for a gruesome murder in a complex and thoroughly convincing set-up. Cost does a masterful job of laying out the clues and threads in a suspenseful, tightly-wrapped, satisfying mystery.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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