THE WRECK OF THE PORTLAND: A DOOMED SHIP, A VIOLENT STORM, AND NEW ENGLAND’S WORST MARITIME DISASTER by J. North Conway; Lyons Press, 2022; 200 pages, $19.95; ISBN 978-1-4930-5946-1.


On Saturday, Nov. 26, 1898, the side-wheel paddle steamer S.S. Portland left Boston on its usual nine-hour journey to Portland, Maine carrying more than 200 passengers and crew. It was never seen again.

“The Wreck of the Portland” is journalist J. North Conway’s dramatic story of the “Portland Gale, the storm of the century” that ravaged the New England coast, killed 400 people and sank 200 vessels, including the luxurious Portland. Conway has written 15  nonfiction books, but this one stands out as a maritime disaster story rivaling the gripping drama of Walter Lord’s 1955 classic “A Night to Remember” (Titanic). This was originally published in 2019 by Lyons Press, now available in soft cover.

There were no survivors from the wreck of the Portland, but some records and accounts remain which Conway put to good use in telling this tragic story. He has taken some literary license to describe people and events aboard the vessel, but does so with care and deliberation, imagination and historical background.

As he relates, the Portland was the victim of two converging storm systems that collided over New England producing 110 mph winds, 60-foot waves, heavy snow and bitter cold. The Portland’s captain received timely and accurate weather reports, but decided to sail anyway with an ominous departing comment: “We may have a good chance.”

Controversy still swirls over the disaster. Did the company order the captain to stay in port or go ahead and sail? Did other captains tell him not to go? Why did he defy maritime warnings and weather forecasts? No one knows how many people were on the Portland. The only passenger manifest was on board. Conway also discusses the national weather service, superstitions at sea, and details of the lucky few who cancelled their trip and survived.



When 30-ish and single Julia Snowden broke up with her boyfriend, got kicked out of her apartment and moved back in with her mother, she probably thought that was a particularly bad day. She was wrong; it’s going to get a lot worse.

“Muddled Through” is Portland author Barbara Ross’s 10th book in her popular “Maine Clambake Mystery” series set in the fictional coastal town of Busman’s Harbor, and featuring redoubtable Julia as an amateur detective and operator of the Snowden Family Clambake tourist business. Ross has always put together delightful “cozy” mysteries with timely plots, colorful characters, excitement and suspense. And this one is a hit.

While feeling sorry for herself, Julia is asked by her sister, Livvie, to investigate the destructive vandalism at a local high-end pottery shop. She learns of a bitter feud between the shop owner, Zoey Butterfield, and her next-door

MUDDLED THROUGH: A MAINE CLAMBAKE MYSTERY by Barbara Ross; Kensington Books, 2022; 269 pages, $8.99; ISBN 978-1-4967-3569-0.

business owner, nasty Phinney Hardison. Gossip-mongers takes sides and most folks just laugh, until somebody gets their throat cut and the body is found in Zoey’s basement workshop.

However, the local cops and state police detectives aren’t laughing, and immediately suspect Zoey is the killer. Julia isn’t convinced either way, but there are a couple of things that just don’t add up. She is intrigued and starts asking some penetrating personal questions of certain curious townspeople and sketchy outsiders, and there are some surprising answers.

Her investigation reveals details folks would rather stay hidden, including an almost exact duplicate murder years before in another state. Even the police believe something is fishy. Julia is an attractive, smart young woman; she recognizes the danger she finds herself in, but fails to see she has also attracted two unexpected and ardent suitors. Good for her.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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