HUNGER HILL by Philip C. Baker; Maine Authors Publishing, 2023; 259 pages, $19.95; ISBN 978-1-63381-361-8.


When low-life, petty crook Patrick Grogan is found dead in the back of his store, everybody, even the police, think it’s clearly a suicide. His business was failing, the neighborhood hated him, so good riddance,
right? But, a smart police detective spots something that just looks out of place.

“Hunger Hill” is southern Maine author Philip Baker’s debut novel, a fast-paced crime drama pitting a ruthless Russian criminal oligarch and his pet assassin against some pretty resourceful Portland Police Department detectives. Hunger Hill is a tight-knit Portland neighborhood full of colorful, quirky characters, including a 20-year-old Russian female rookie assassin named Silk, whose boss is brutal Fyodor Umarov.

Silk believes her first hit was smooth, easy and flawless, but she’s wrong. When Umarov learns of her mistakes, he orders her to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, Detective Basil Keene (who has his own baggage) uncovers a clue that might change Grogan’s death from suicide to homicide, and the cops really go to work. A possible motive is the key, only discovered by a very savvy, newly joined female detective.

Silk is a cold-blooded killer with ambition and revenge on her mind, but she makes rookie mistakes and the police begin to figure things out. The real reason for Grogan’s death and the depth and depravity of Umarov’s criminal enterprise are both stunning, but it will take a much-hated, smarmy newspaper reporter, a wily FBI agent, and an under-age girl bartender to help Keene put it all together.

This is a well-crafted crime thriller with loads of action, police procedures, plot surprises and a dramatic conclusion. The female Russian assassin angle is not new (see the movies “Silk” and “Red Sparrow”), but Baker pulls it off nicely.


HECTOR FOX AND THE DARING FLIGHT by Astrid Sheckels; Islandport Press, 2022; 32 pages, $19.95; ISBN 978-1-952-14341-0.


Adults and children love stories of adventurous animals who laugh, have fun and wear pants. After all, what’s not to love about a beaver wearing overalls?

“Hector Fox and the Daring Fight” is author and illustrator Astrid Sheckels’s third excellent children’s book (for ages 4-8) about Hector and all his quirky woodland pals. The first two books, “Hector Fox and the Giant Quest” and “Hector Fox and the Raven’s Revenge,” were charmingly suspenseful, but this latest book is less mystery and more slap-stick fun.

Sheckels not only writes her own stories, she also does all the very detailed and vividly colorful illustrations. The artwork is fabulous. Hector Fox is the leader of a group of animal friends who dress like people: Hector wears pantaloons, a red sweater and a bowtie; Lucy Skunk wears a pretty dress; and Jeremiah Rabbit wears trousers with suspenders. The bear, beaver and chipmunk are also smartly clad.

In this adventure the pals fly a kite and wonder what it might be like to fly themselves. They set out to build a flying machine, but their invention doesn’t work. Skeptical Amos Beaver steps in to help, and they create a glider. Of course, when the glider is launched into strong winds with Charlie Chipmunk as the pilot (he’s the smallest and lightest), everything goes wrong.

Hector and four pals get stuck in the top of a tree before the glider crashes, and Rufus Bear’s rescue attempt is a hilarious pratfall, but everyone is safe and uninjured. The friends celebrate their adventure with cookies and lemonade, and each is secretly glad to be on firm ground again. This is a wonderful, funny tale of friendship, creativity, adventure and a happy ending.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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