MURDER IN THE MAPLE WOODS by Claire Ackroyd; Maine Authors Publishing, 2020; 179 pages, $15.95.

MURDER IN THE MAPLE WOODS

The mysteries of Maine maple syrup production are revealed in Claire Ackroyd’s debut novel, “Murder in the Maple Woods,” along with the lethal steps some people will take to hide a secret.

Ackroyd lives in central Maine and is a landscape designer and independent organic inspector. The organic part is important because her main character in this mystery is Simone Thibodeau, a resourceful and colorfully profane young woman working as an organic inspector for the Maine Organic Maple Producers. Organic maple syrup is Simone’s business, but she never dreamed it could be so deadly.

As a murder-mystery writer, Ackroyd spins a good yarn full of suspense, clues, twists and turns, humor and richly defined characters. She also explains the complexities of maple syrup production, from sugar maple trees, taps, hoses, weather, sanitation, storage and equipment to organic certification, regulations and the ever-present bureaucratic organic inspection procedures.

Simone’s inspection of sugar camps along Maine’s northwest border with Canada are normally routine, except for one camp that abuts her Uncle Serge’s operation. Something isn’t right at the LePage camp, but she can’t figure it out. Everybody knows the two LePage brothers are bums, so what are they really doing?

Simone casually suggests her teenage cousin Mattie and his friend snoop a little, but only one boy comes back alive. The police aren’t interested, and Simone smells a rat. With the help of a young border patrol agent, a savvy Maine game warden, her tough Uncle Serge and a slobbery pit bull puppy, Simone uncovers more puzzles, narrowly avoids her own murder, and gets a frightened witness to finally tell her what the boys saw at the LePage sugar camp.

This is a superb mystery with a hint of a sequel.

 

FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA:  THE HISTORICAL RESTORATION OF THE PENOBSCOT RIVER edited by Peter Taylor; Islandport Press, 2020; 145 pages, $24.95.

FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA:  THE HISTORICAL RESTORATION OF THE PENOBSCOT RIVER

Maine’s Native Americans called the Penobscot River the “Sacred Circle of Life,” honoring its importance in native history, culture and ability to provide food, water and agriculture. However, since Samuel de Champlain explored the river in 1605, development and industry made the river unrecognizable to those early Native Americans.

“From the Mountains to the Sea” is Harpswell author Peter Taylor’s tribute to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (PRRT), a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the river as a healthy, vibrant natural resource. And its success “demonstrates what can happen when people reconnect rivers to the sea, reestablish healthy habitats for native fish, and think on a watershed scale about how to use natural resources.”

Beautifully illustrated with numerous color photographs, Taylor focuses on the harm caused by the river’s many hydroelectric dams that have provided much-needed electricity, but that also polluted water quality and disrupted the habitat of native fish and other wildlife. His effort then showcases the conflicts between hydropower and the need to open the river to fish migration. Surprisingly, little is said about the industrial pollution created by sawmills, pulp and paper mills and tanneries.

Instead, Taylor tells how the PRRT used sensible arguments and cooperation to remove many obsolete dams, establish fish migration facilities like fish ladders, fish lifts and bypass channels, and still allow for more efficient hydropower generation. Taylor also offers fascinating explanations of fish habitat, migration, spawning and physiology of the Penobscot’s 12 most significant sea-run fish species, like salmon, sturgeon, shad, alewife, herring and smelt.

For more interesting reading about Maine rivers, see also “Rivers of Fortune” by Bill Caldwell (Down East Books, 1983), and “Kennebec: Cradle of Americans” by Robert P. Tristram Coffin (Down East Books, 1965).

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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