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Death in Salem by Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is the librarian-turned historical mystery writer.  I am in awe of her ability to work full time as assistant director of Goshen Public Library in New York and still have the time to do all the research and writing that is required to produce a high quality historical mystery series.  “Death in Salem” again features itinerant weaver Will Rees and his wife Lydia and is set in Maine and surrounding states in the 1790s.

Rees embarks on the trip south from Maine to Massachusetts to sell his wares to earn a few extra dollars for his growing family.  In the last novel in the “A Will Rees Mystery” series Rees and his wife acquire a brood of kids when they encounter a woman who is dying and who’s orphaned children they decide to adopt.  In Salem Will visits with his Revolutionary War compatriot nicknamed Twig, who has become the town undertaker.  Will accompanies his friend to the funeral averil (wake or post-funeral gathering) for the wife of a prominent merchant fleet owner who has died under somewhat mysterious circumstances after years of being bed-ridden.  She was a member of a prominent whaling family that lives several miles from Salem.  When the black slave servant of the dead woman’s household is arrested for her murder on little to no evidence, Twig asks Will to investigate to save the life of his lover, the black woman.

It is clear that the Sheriff is either incompetent or in on some wider plot tied in to this case.  Leads investigated by Will are far-ranging and suggest the possibility of an insurance fraud cover-up, possible smuggling, possible mercy killing, and several other potential reasons for the growing number of murders.

The one thing that I find a little bothersome, and particularly as the author moves forward with this series, is the lack of opportunity to include Lydia on the whole plot.  Lydia arrives late on the scene in “Death in Salem,” and while her insights do help to solve the case, this series is more satisfying when Will and Lydia work as a team from the start. Because the children clearly need Lydia at home the author is somewhat boxed in because someone must stay home with the kids while Will is plying his wares throughout the northeast. Perhaps the next novel will need to be set at their farm in Maine because there are a growing number of family issues to resolve that could be woven into the pattern of the next mystery.

Death in Salem” is a most insightful mystery.  So few mysteries these days are based on such thorough scholarship.  I learned a lot I did not know before about everything from slavery in the early northern states to the differences between the merchant ship trade and the whaling trade in late 18th century America.  Lovers of Historical mysteries set in colonial America will love this one!

Liz Nichols

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Killing Maine by Mike Bond

Mike Bond has produced another nail-bitter in his Pono Hawkins series in “Killing Maine.”  Once again, the wind energy industry is portrayed as the bad guys– the very bad guys and gals who are responsible for scamming people out of Mike Bondtheir properties, intimidating and even killing people who object to the installation of wind generators on increasing numbers of hills and mountains in Bond’s home state of Maine.

In “Saving Paradise” Pono Hawkins was able to expose illegal activity before wind power companies got a major foothold in the state.  His challenge in “Killing Maine” is several wind energy companies have already bought property and have installed many wind-farms.  The results have become painfully obvious to many of the people living near these wind farms and to those who sold land and now find their remaining property worthless and unsaleable.  Pono finds that a very significant portion of the legislature has been paid off by the wind lobby and local government officials and police departments are also taking orders from wind energy companies.

The plot goes like this:  Pono Hawkins is asked to come back to his Hawkins family ancestral home near Augusta, Maine because one of his Special Forces buddies from Afghanistan, Bucky Franklin, has been arrested and accused of killing the husband of a woman he has had a romantic relationship with.  Everywhere Pono turns to get Bucky exonerated he gets stopped.  Pono gets accused of trumped up charges by the police.  He has to travel under assumed identity in order to get back to Hawaii in order to see his dying father.  It takes the help of his genius computer tech friend, Mitchell, and the support of three beautiful women to unwind the mystery, keep Pono from being assassinated, and eventually expose the perpetrators among the wind energy lobby.

As someone who lives in Iowa, a state that now gets 30% of its power from wind, the book’s accusations are disturbing.  I agree with Bond that companies that take advantage of the wind energy subsidies to build wind farms that do not produce energy and never can produce energy because of their location, obviously, should be stopped.  It is also important to minimize other problems, such as the impact on migrating birds and bats.  They also should not be placed in locations that are heavily populated because turbines do have a negative impact on humans and animals and they will reduce land values for those who live around these generators.  When wind is placed where it makes sense and the companies running these wind farms make fair offers to landowners and prove to be good corporate neighbors, then wind is a positive addition to the energy mix and a boost to a state’s economy.

Unfortunately, there is evidence to support many of Bond’s claims and something needs to be done on a national level to stop inappropriate uses of this form of power.  Rules for getting subsidies must be tightened, or ended, and companies that use strong-arm tactics and bribery to gain a foothold in a state or a city must be stopped.  Campaign financing reform would help to lessen the likelihood of political corruption.

Bond not only addresses a very concerning issue in “Killing Maine” he does so with an absorbing, well written thriller with a complex and interesting main character, Pono Hawkins.  “Killing Maine” just sucks in the reader and makes it difficult to put the book down until the very last page– even when the reader does not totally agree with all of the conclusions about wind energy.

A winner of a thriller.
Liz Nichols

 

(Reviewd from a supplied copy.  Due for publication July 22, 2015.)

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