Maine

“Musseled Out” by Barbara Ross

 

Book Cover - Musseled Out

Julia Snowden is back in “Musseled Out,” the third installment of Barbara Ross’ great Maine Clambake Mystery series.

 

The Maine summer tourist season is winding down and it’s time for Julia to make a decision. Should she stay around until the next season to help the family with the Snowden Clambake business or go back to her venture capital job in New York City? Her boss will only hold her spot open for so long – just until the end of the week. She’s got five days to choose between two jobs and lifestyles that could not be more different.

 

Now that the family livelihood has been saved, about the only thing that really holds Julia to Busman’s Harbor is her boyfriend, Chris. But, is that relationship really just a summer fling? Can she count on him to hang around? Is his constant disappearing act over? In a half-hearted attempt to force herself into making a decision, she looks at places to live in town. She doesn’t like the apartments she’s seen, and her boyfriend’s cabin is a little rough (translation – gutted while being rehabbed) for her taste. Plus, she has to find work in the off-season. Is that a sign?

 

The thing is, as in any good series, there has to be motivation for the out-of-town main character to hang around. We don’t want Julia to go anywhere, so Ross has to give this smart, savvy gal in “Musseled Out” an authentic reason. How about the body of a potential competitor, David Thwing, tangled up in the lines of a lobster boat she sees drifting off her beach? Julia has helped the local police successfully before, so they trust her not to be involved in Thwing’s death, but there are plenty of people (including her brother-in-law) in her circle that could have done the deed.

 

What follows is a beautifully crafted plot, with surprising twists and turns, and impeccably placed events that foil the bad guys’ plans. There is even a page-turning rescue scene that left me stunned, with the life and death struggles reading like an actual Coast Guard response.

 

Ross has developed the core characters of the series even further in “Musseled Out,” giving Gus and Mrs. Gus a storyline of their own that affects Julia and Chris in a profound way. The book not only explores what happens when key personnel in a family business are sidelined, and the serious decisions that must be made, but also how bad decisions can wreck havoc on the lives of everyone involved.

 

 

The motivations for everything that happens are as current as the latest news cycle, but if that’s not enough, there are some serious cooks in this series. Techniques are shared as part of the storyline, and I plan to try the one for fried eggs. Recipes for main dishes and desserts are included at the end of the book. I made lobster mac & cheese from “Clammed Up,” (delicious) and I can’t wait to try the pumpkin whoopee pies from “Musseled Out.”

 

Well done!

 

Read the review of “Clammed Up,” the first in the series, here.

 

For more information about Barbara Ross and her next book, “Fogged Inn,” please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com

 

 

 

“Triple Witch” by Sarah Graves

 

Book Cover - Triple Witch

“Triple Witch” is the second book in Sarah Graves’ ‘Home Repair is Homicide’ series.

 

Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree is out for a walk on the beach on an island in Maine with her best pal and sometime employee, Ellie, and they happen upon a dead man. Yup, very dead with a bullet hole in his forehead. And the dead guy just happens to be Ellie’s former boyfriend, a local small-time crook, Kenny Mumford. It seems that one body isn’t enough as a crime spree breaks out, pointing to Kenny at its center. But what is the motive?

 

Soon, Jake’s island becomes a bit too crowded when a disgruntled ex-con former millionaire shows up, making her nervous since his incarceration was due in large part to her investigations while she was living a high-powered financier’s life on Wall Street. She ruined his life and he wasn’t happy about it. But, he was not supposed to know where she now lived. Will her past endanger her present life?

 

Add in a talented, but dyslexic teenage son, a hunky caring boyfriend, an ex-husband who follows her to the island in search of redemption and Jacobia’s life takes center stage, never mind the murder(s). Juggling the men and crime investigations means that repairs to her dilapidated coastal Maine house have to wait. But, the town must have a ‘thumbs up’ review in order to keep the tourists coming from the mainland. A promise to do her part with a much-needed shutter overhaul (the house looks bald without them) might do Jacobia in. Mix it all together and you’ve got the ingredients for serious fun in Eastport in “Triple Witch.”

 

Graves has created interesting, well-developed core characters for her series and the ones who frequent the edges as the plots unfold are always quirky – worthy of murderous intent and Jake’s scrutiny. Her writing/plotting is smart, with dialogue that rings true and internal homicidal thoughts about the obnoxious ex that are soooooo funny. She restrains herself for her son’s sake, but barely.

 

In each of the sixteen books in the series, we get instruction in how to recondition/repair plumbing or other essential pieces of the dwelling. In “Triple Witch,” we learn about shutters, and porch railings and how to repair a drainpipe with finesse – real information a DIYer can use. Since Graves herself lives in an old, renovated Maine house with her musician husband and a Labrador named Evelyn, we can safely assume that the remodeling details are based on actual experience.

 

Entertaining summer read with lots of wonderful descriptions of coastal Maine life.

 

Please visit www.sarahgraves.net for information about all of the books in this great series as well as scenic photos of Eastport, Maine.

 

 

 

“Clammed Up” by Barbara Ross

 

Book Cover - Clammed Up

 

Last time I checked, murder is not on a wedding caterer’s official to-do list. They would have a tough time getting paid if bodies started popping up during the reception. But, that’s exactly what happens to Julia Snowden in Barbara Ross’ “Clammed Up.” An already cash strapped family business faces disaster when the groom’s missing best man is found hanged on the island where the clambake reception will be held – before wedding vows can even be exchanged.

 

Why is Ray Wilson dead? How did the body get there? How many people had a motive? Will the murder kill the business or bring the tourists in droves? Will the bank listen to reason? So many questions raised by Ray’s untimely demise, and Ross supplies us with multiple answers for each in this charming cozy.

 

Julia Snowden is back in Maine to save the family clambake business. Her father is dead, her brother-in-law has over-borrowed to keep the operation afloat, and Julia (with her venture capitalist background) seems like the perfect person to save the day. Except that the bank doesn’t want to hear her tale of woe; they will call in the loan of $1.5 million dollars if the business is closed for more than five days during the short Maine tourist season. The pesky murder takes up one of those days. And counting.

 

The murder, the engaged couple with lots to hide, the childhood crush who has grown into a hunky young man, an AWOL son, family accusations and betrayal, the police who seem to be dragging their heels, millions of dollars at stake, the friends who act as sounding boards when Julia can’t figure out why all this is happening – all combine to make “Clammed Up” a very satisfying mystery. The important characters are agreeably drawn – Gus, the restaurant owner, is a gem and his ‘house rules’ are hilarious. He carries the Maine anti-outsider bias to extreme by barring anyone he doesn’t know – and gets away with it.

 

Beyond the inventive storyline, “Clammed Up” introduces us to the behind-the-scenes world of a real Maine Clambake and tells us how the seafood is stored to keep it fresh and cold. We are walked through a dinner prep and service, with the entire staff working to get the food on the tables so that each guest can have the full experience of cracking the lobsters, opening the clams, and wearing the bibs, all at the same time.  Although not really a foodie book, Ross does weave food deliciously throughout the plot with a conversational tone – Julia sharing her story over a bottle of cold Sea Dog ale, chatting about the meals she has eaten along the way to solving the crime.

 

The prominent subplot of the precarious seasonal businesses at the Maine coast is handled effectively. Ross discloses the constantly present issues of bad weather and limited time available to make the yearly income, and it is clear that both play a huge role in the livelihood of both employers and employees alike. Rain keeps the tourists away and everybody suffers. B&B owners give up their own bedrooms for paying customers for the season, just so the bills can be paid for the rest of the year. A few rainy days scattered throughout the summer is bad enough, but if a hurricane hits and homes or businesses are damaged, or the economy slumps and people stay home, then disaster strikes. Not everyone has the cash reserves to come back from that, as has been demonstrated after real-life disasters up and down the East coast of this country.

 

Happily, there are mouthwatering recipes at the end of “Clammed Up.” I can’t wait to try the lobster mac & cheese and the blueberry grunt. I’m already salivating and getting my grocery list ready.

 

Barbara Ross’ thoroughly enjoyable “Clammed Up,” is an Agatha Award nominated book for Best Contemporary Novel. I’ll post the results after the votes are in this weekend.

 

Please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com for more information about Barbara Ross and her next book in the series, “Boiled Over.”