(Our Guest Blogger today is Paula Keeney, from Mainely Murders Bookstore in Kennebunk)
It’s (almost) summer in Maine. That means the tourists are back and many are looking for some good summer/beach reads. How do you spell m-y-s-t-e-r-i-e-s?
At Mainely Murders Bookstore, that means customers from both here and away are asking for Maine mysteries—those with Pine Tree State settings as well as those written by Maine authors. Maine visitors in search of Jessica Fletcher and Cabot Cove are sometimes disappointed to learn that the small town mystery-writing sleuth is 100 percent Hollywood.
Still, they can rejoice in the fact that Maine is a Mecca for writers of mysteries and detective fiction. Maine’s most celebrated resident-author Stephen King, Bangor’s own, though best known for his tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction also wrote a few traditional mysteries. Tess Gerritsen (Camden) with her series starring Rizzoli and Isles and Julia Spencer-Fleming (Buxton) and her Claire Fergusson books are both popular and well-known mysteries writers, though their stories are set in Boston and upstate New York, respectively.
For mysteries by Maine authors set in Maine, readers need look no further than our own Maine Crime Writers. As a New York City transplant, I’m particular to mysteries set in the big city. In Maine, that means Portland, and three favorites—Kate Flora, James Hayman, and Gerry Boyle—have made the mean streets of Portland and a fictional Portland PD the setting of series.
Kate, who divides her time between homes in Harpswell and Massachusetts, is the author of the seven-title Thea Kozak series. More recently, she’s moved on to police procedurals featuring Joe Burgess, a crusty but big-hearted homicide detective in Portland. Following Playing God (2006) and The Angel of Knowlton Park (2008), Kate’s third Burgess book, Redemption, was published last year. It went on to win the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.
Portlander James Hayman, a former New York City ad man, has created his alter ego—he admits they’re very much alike—in the person of Mike McCabe, a former NYPD homicide detective now a detective sergeant living in Portland. Powerful and gritty—how do you spell not-for-faint-of-heart?—The Cutting and The Chill of the Night leave us eagerly awaiting McCabe’s return.
Gerry, a former newspaperman who now resides China, first started writing mysteries about reporter Jack McMorrow, a small-town writer in fictitious Androscoggin, in 1993. Since that book—Deadline—eight others have followed, mostly focused on crime in rural/small town Maine. In our bookstore, Gerry’s McMorrow books are the biggest sellers in the Maine section, perhaps due partly to the fact that I’m a huge fan of the small town editor. (Gerry knows this and has promised me that Jack McMorrow will be back.)
But like Kate, Gerry saw the potential of Portland as a crime scene and created another series around Brandon Blake, a young loner who lives aboard a wooden cruiser in Portland Harbor (Port City Shakedown and Port City Black and White).
Kate, Jim, and Gerry each write strong police procedurals—with their own take on the inner workings of their Portland Police Department—but they’ve not sacrificed strong character development for the sake of blood and guts. From the rookie to the cop on the cusp of retirement, they’ve given us authentic-feeling cops whose stories we can care about. Likewise, they’ve each been true to Maine’s largest city as a character in itself, from the fine restaurants and buzzing night scene to the smells of a working waterfront, they capture the many sides of Maine’s largest city.
As an avid mystery reader—as well as a mystery bookseller—this trio of crime-writing Mainers has more than met my personal criteria for a great read: well-developed, likeable characters; a strong sense of place; and a compelling mystery.
Rest assured (or not!), Maine mysteries aren’t limited to Portland. Writers are non-discriminatory in selecting their crime scenes: small coastal towns, island villages, and isolated forest communities. Next time, I’ll travel from the glare of the big city to the small towns and rural areas of Maine, where crime appears to run rampant, or at least more rampant than in real life.
Paula Keeney is co-owner of Kennebunk’s Mainely Murders Bookstore (www.mainelymurders.com), an independent specialty mystery bookstore devoted exclusively to suspense, crime, and detective fiction—from classics and cozies to tough guys and thrillers.