Small Town Cops and Me–Part II

by Barb who is writing this in Milwaukee

The last time I posted here, I wrote about my interactions with our small police force in Boothbay Harbor this summer. Unlike the murders I write about in the Maine Clambake Mysteries, these incidents were entirely harmless (for us), if annoying or hilarious (for the police).

But there was one time in Boothbay Harbor when we were involved in a real crime and mystery. In January of 2012, a neighbor noticed that the wood frame around the back door to our house was damaged. He called my sister-in-law because he knew she lived in town fulltime. She came over and investigated and sure enough we had been broken into.

Bill went up to our unheated house with the water turned off and inspected. It’s a seasonal house, there was nothing of value there. It appeared that the thieves had taken my mother-in-law’s costume jewelry–almost exclusively. While in Boothbay Harbor, Bill learned from the police that ours was one of three burglaries all in the same area, including another summer residence, and the home of fulltime people while they were away. The same kind of items were taken.

Bill asked why the thieves would have broken the door frame instead of shattering the glass in the door, which seemed like a much easier job. The police said the sound of cracking wood wouldn’t attract any attention from the neighbors, who would assume it was someone splitting logs or doing minor repairs, but the sound of shattering glass almost always brought someone around to investigate or a call to the police.

Little did we know at the time we were the front end of the wave. Over the next fifteen months there were twenty similar burglaries at residences in Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Southport and Woolwich, along with three businesses. On October 25th, seven Boothbay residences were burglarized one day. The thief or thieves continued to take a lot of costume jewelry, but also valuable jewelry, coin collections, comic book collection, sterling silver, binoculars, and a host of other things. People were on edge. There was a rumor that at a neighbor’s house, fulltime people who had been away visiting one of their kids, the thieves had taken guns along with the usual haul.

The police worked the case hard. More than once over the summer of 2012, they came to our house with lists supplied by Portland pawn shops to see if we recognized anything. But we assumed because we’d lost costume jewelry, and because the descriptions  from the pawn shops were general, “i.e. gold chain,” we never spotted anything.

Then, the case broke. The police linked three of the crimes to a local man using DNA and physical evidence. Then, the police chief got a call from the man’s sister-in-law, who said, “You better get up here.” She had discovered a cache of items in a storage area of the home used by her brother-in-law. The police transported forty boxes from the house. Here’s a quote from the Boothbay Register.

“As they sorted through, each find that corresponded to an unsolved burglary brought a cry of recognition and elation from the assembled officers. As individual burglaries were identified, police also began the satisfying task of notifying burglary victims of the recovery.”

However, as the police had dealt with securing the various warrants required to search the property and remove the items, the brother-in-law arrived, saw what was happening and walked away. He left without his wallet, keys, or car.

He was arrested in April, sixty miles south of St. Louis, Missouri. He had stolen a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle from Woolwich, Maine. People in the town where he landed in Missouri had reported suspicious activity in the woods and police found the stolen car. They speculated that he wouldn’t have been noticed if he hadn’t called attention to himself with a vintage automobile. He was tried and sentenced to seven years, after he finishes serving various other sentences in other jurisdictions.

As a writer, I am fascinated by these crimes. Yes, the perpetrator was a career criminal, but he kept the items. He didn’t try to fence them, just hoarded them. The burglaries were frequent, almost frenzied. He probably spent the small amounts of cash he found, but hoarded everything else.

A small, local police force did a fantastic job on the case. They eventually held a series of open houses where they returned the stolen items to the victims.

Readers: Do you have a small town police story to share? It’s a tough job with a lot of tedium, and then crazy people call you when their printer starts up in the middle of the night (that would be us). Thank them for their service!

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It’s a Pudding? Yup. A Quebecois Apple/Cranberry Pudding

Lea Wait, here. Many of you know that next June I will turn (part-time) into Cornelia Kidd, and write the Maine Café series, a food mystery series featuring two sisters who meet as adults and open a restaurant on a Maine island.

Since my own personal food preferences are … diverse … one of the sisters is Korean-American and one is a multi-generation Mainer whose grandmother, also a character in the series, was born in Quebec. The sisters will feature cuisine from all of those areas in their restaurant (and in their own kitchens,) and will also be sharing some research on “heritage recipes.”

Bob and I have had a lot of fun modifying, cooking, and taste-testing the recipes that will be in the book.

Here’s a sneak peak at some of my research — and one of our recipes!

In early 17th century North American puddings, or duffs, as they were sometimes called, were ingredients put in a cloth bag, hung inside or above a pot being used to cook other food, and cooked for four or five hours. They were basic parts of almost every meal.

After stoves came into common usage in the middle of the 19th century puddings were baked and usually served as desserts, with lemon, wine, or brandy sauces. New Englanders used molasses or maple syrup as sweeteners instead of sugar.

The recipe included here is a classic apple pudding, to which my cook has added cranberries. Similar apple puddings are called pandowdies, slumps, cobblers, or grunts in different parts of the United States and Canada.


5 medium-sized Granny Smith or other tart apples, sliced as you would for apple pie. Peel or not peel — your choice.

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup dried sweetened cranberries

4 Tablespoons butter, softened

1 Cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 cup four

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter rectangular pan (approximately 7 x 12 inches). Mix apple slices and cranberries, spread evenly in pan, and sprinkle with brown sugar.  In medium sized mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar, then add eggs and mix well.  Add flour and baking powder; mix thoroughly. Drop large spoonfuls of batter on top of apples.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle of pudding comes away clean.  Service warm or art room temperature. (Tastes especially good topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Serves 6.

And – of course – enjoy!

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Weekend Update: September 9-10, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Lea Wait (Monday), Barb Ross (Tuesday), Brendan Rielly (Wednesday), Jessie Crockett (Thursday), and John Clark (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

From Kaitlyn Dunnett: I’m running another giveaway at Goodreads, starting on Sept. 10 and running through the 25th. This one is for an advance reading copy of my December book. X MARKS THE SCOT. Liss finds a “treasure map” in back of a painting she buys at auction and can’t resist following up on the clues. Naturally, this leads her into trouble, and another murder to solve. The story takes place primarily in Moosetookalook, but there’s a side trip to Canada that includes a visit to the Gaelic College and to the Highland games in Antigonish. Here’s the link:

This Sunday, from 2-6 p.m., Maine Crime Writers Vaughn Hardacker, Maureen Milliken, John Clark and Kate Flora will be at the BikeMaine event at Manson Park in Pittsfield. It looks like it will be a fun event, so if you’re planning to be there, stop by and say hello.

From Bruce Robert Coffin: Join Bruce at Mast Landing Brewery in Westbrook, Maine on Wednesday evening from 4 – 9 as he officially kicks off the launch of his latest novel Beneath the Depths. Longfellow Books will be on hand selling copies of both Detective Byron Mystery novels. Members of the Maine Public Safety Pipe and Drum Corps will provide some great music and of course Mast Landing will be pouring their awesome  selection of beer. A reminder that ten percent of book and beers sales will be donated to Westbrook’s My Place Teen Center.



An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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Present the Present

Inevitable, maybe, on the first day of September, that we all take a long breath and maybe the long weekend to calm ourselves after the usual too-busy summer and anticipate the rabbit-rabbit ratchet-down of social activity before we go into the long cold hunker. For as much as I love my friends and family, my own mental health depends on long stretches of quiet time with my work and my thinking. As an aside, one of the peculiarly cruel aspects of both writing books and trying to sell them these days is how it forces people who are mostly introverts into activities that are not necessarily our strengths: talking about ourselves, asking people to buy things from us, and generally trying to entertain people face-to-face when we’d prefer to be doing it on the page.

Which is mainly on my mind because I’m about to enter that stage of book life myself. In Solo Time, the second in the Elder Darrow series and the prequel to Solo Act, comes into the world officially on September 20 and starting with an appearance at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick on September 19th, I plunge myself into a round of, well, situations, including in October:

  • October 5 at Longfellow Books
  • October 7 at Autumnfest in Bath
  • October 11-15 at Bouchercon
  • October 27 at Murder By the Book in Bar Harbor

I know there are people who enjoy this sort of thing and I would never complain about actually doing the events.

As David Sedaris memorably said in a PSB interview: “People who come to hear you read your books and sign them are showing love. How can you not like that?”

But everything has an energy cost and when I’m expending energy on marketing and selling books, it’s energy I don’t have for writing. You could make a case that this could be good for your writing, a time away, but I got into this gig because I like making things up and the feel of ink scrolling out on the page. If I don’t have enough of that, I don’t have enough.

All of which made me think in this month where students and teachers get back to school, about what I’m most grateful for in my formal education and that would be one of my first mentors, the estimable Robert McNamara, an English teacher at Boston Latin School.

Mac was not any administrator’s idea of an ideal teacher—if there was a curriculum for our junior English class, I never saw it, nothing like a syllabus, even a list of books. What he did do for us was encourage us to read—whatever we wanted!—and write weekly reviews and essays about what we’d read.

I’d been reading since I was old enough to hide under the covers with my flashlight. For me, this was as good as an invitation to eat pie for breakfast for the rest of my life. Every week from January to May, I read at least two or three books and wrote a one or two page commentary on what I’d read. Mac would read our offerings and grade them with two grades, one for the idea and one for the execution.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me that actual people wrote the books I was so eagerly consuming until one of my essays came back with a a grade of A for the idea and a B+ for the grammar and writing. (Mac was also a pretty forgiving grader.) It was not a book report but a tour de force where I tried to imagine life inside a ping-pong ball. I believe everyone can trace his or her inciting incident to a small moment like this. I fear that was the point at which I started to fool myself into thinking I could entertain people.

Mac was long gone by the time I realized what he had done for me and I never had the chance to thank him in person. Maybe this little piece will help make up for that omission. Which reminds me also that a little more gratitude in our lives, especially these days, would be welcome. If you owe someone a smile or a word or a hug, now would be the best time to pay it, don’t you think? Bake a pie, buy someone a drink, write a note. There is no present like the present.

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Books, Books and More Books!

By Brenda Buchanan

Fall is now rushing into view.  When I gaze at my shelf of just-read and to-be-read books I wish there were more hours in the day.

Here we go . . .

My writing schedule keeps me in front of the keyboard until 9:30 or so on weeknights and many hours on weekend days. Honoring my writing routine is essential to staying in the flow, but reading others’ work is how I wind down before bed. While some of my MCW colleagues prefer to read anything but crime fiction when they’re immersed in a book of their own, I like to nourish myself with the familiar.

That said, I kicked off the summer with a novel that you won’t find shelved with mystery or crime fiction, Lisa Carey’s wonderful The Stolen Child. Set in 1959 on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, it’s a superb tale of women with mystical power living in a close community.

Lisa Carey lives in Maine and in a couple of weeks will be teaching a Maine Writers & Publisher’s Alliance class on the Anatomy of a Novel. I’ve not only signed up but plan to sit in the front row.

In October I’m going to Bouchercon in Toronto—the big Mama of mystery conventions. I’m thrilled to have been chosen to moderate a panel discussion called The Reporters: Enemies of the People or Champions of the Oppressed?

Five terrific crime writers who’ve done time in the journalistic trenches will discuss their fictional reporters and how their own real life experience informs their fiction.

In preparation for the panel I’m reading the panelists’ work. I inhaled Julia Dahl’s stunning Conviction, about a freelance reporter exposing the wrongful conviction of a man imprisoned for murdering his foster family when he was just a boy.

I’m in the middle of Gwen Florio’s Disgraced about a female soldier who returns from Afghanistan with secrets and emotional wounds.

Next up will be Finnish writer Antti Tuomainen’s The Mine, about a reporter’s efforts to expose the environmental devastation of a mining operation in a small town in Northern Finland. Then Christina Kovac’s The Cutaway about a television news producer investigating the disappearance of a Washington D.C. lawyer, and Rich Zahradnik’s Lights Out Summer, featuring a journalist working during the 1977 blackout in New York City.

I had the pleasure of reading MCW colleague Richard J. Cass’s second Elder Darrow book, In Solo Time, actually a prequel to his Maine Literary Award nominated Solo Act. I’m crazy about Dick’s protagonist, a recovering alcoholic who finds salvation owning a bar, and I love the Boston jazz scene he evokes with his smooth prose.  If you haven’t discovered Elder Darrow yet, it’s high time.

I suspect many readers of this blog are well-familiar with MCW alum Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch series. Knife Creek is the eighth book and boy-oh-boy does it deliver. Paul’s creepy characters burrow deep, and his handling of the deepening relationship between Mike Bowditch and Stacey Stevens is deft. If you love Maine, especially its outdoors, you’ll love this book.

I’m also doing some reading in preparation for New England Crime Bake in November. This year’s Guest of Honor is Lisa Gardner, who’s called the Queen of Suspense for a reason. I recently finished the latest in her Pierce Quincy/Rainie Conner series, Right Behind You. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

My current read is Stuart Neville’s mesmerizing Those We Left Behind, which kept me up late over Labor Day weekend. The Belfast (Ireland)-based crime writer builds characters like nobody else. Neville’s prose is powerful, the plot is riveting.

So what’s lined up for fall?

First, two visits with old friends imagined to life by MCW colleagues.

I’m a longtime fan of Thea Kozak, Kate Flora’s fascinating protagonist in a series I was afraid had ended. But now Death Warmed Over, Thea #8, is winking from the top of my TBR pile. I can’t wait.

Bruce Coffin’s follow up to his first John Byron novel, Beneath The Depths, is also beckoning. It’s such a pleasure to read a police procedural by someone who really knows the life of a detective. Bruce has that world nailed, and I look forward to exploring it with him again.

I plan to read Louise Penny’s newest Three Pines mystery—Glass Houses—before I head to Bouchercon, where she’ll be the Canadian Guest of Honour.

I downloaded Lisa Alber’s Path Into Darkness this week. Family complexity dropped into a crime novel that unfolds in Ireland, where I spent a bit of time last spring. How can I resist?  I’m also keen to read my pal Amy Reade’s newest, Highland Peril. Set on a loch in Scotland, I look forward to diving in.

Speaking of Scotland, I also plan to reward myself soon (for what? I’ll think of something) with Ann Cleeves’ Cold Earth, the seventh book in her Shetland series, which has me dreaming of a trip that remote archipelago.

What books did you enjoy this summer? What’s on top of your TBR pile? For the writers among you, does reading books in your genre feed your muse or overwhelm your creativity?

Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available through the Carina Press website, http:// and everywhere else e-books are sold.


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Who is John Byron?

Bruce Robert Coffin here manning the helm of the Maine Crime Writers blog. This month I thought I’d share a bit of insight into my protagonist Detective Sergeant John Byron. People often ask me, who is John Byron? Me? Someone I worked with? Or is Byron totally made up? I guess the honest answer is that he’s comprised of all of those things.

When I began working for the Portland police in 1985 the department was largely comprised of officers from Irish and Italian descent, many of whom had lived their entire lives in the seaside community. These officers were the same officers who trained me. They taught me to be fair-minded, thorough, compassionate, and when necessary, tough. In creating Detective Byron I wanted to capture the essence of those same officers. I wanted to show the readers what it was like to be a cop in the city where you’d been raised. Adding to Byron’s complexity, I made him a second generation badge. Byron’s father Reece was also a Portland police officer which meant that Byron grew-up around cops and had been privy to the colorful war stories they told.

Like most of us John Byron was greatly influenced by his parents. His mother was a strict Irish Catholic who saw to it that John attended Catholic schools. Byron’s father didn’t adhere to much in the way of organized religion. In fact, Reece Byron was much too busy drinking and cavorting with other women to even adhere to the sanctity of marriage. And it goes without saying that Reece wasn’t much in the way of a positive role model either.

For all of his faults, Byron’s father was still a good cop. He was one of the original members of the police department’s Special Reaction Team (SRT), Portland’s version of SWAT. Reece was an “old school” cop who knew everyone on his beat by name. He could be gentle when it was called for and firm when it wasn’t, as many of the patrons of the old rough and tumble Portland waterfront could attest.

Byron’s parents separated then divorced when he was still a teenager. Shortly after the divorce Reece died unexpectedly and tragically. Both of those incidents made a lasting and painful impression on John Byron and played a large part in shaping the man and the cop he would ultimately become.

In the series debut, Among the Shadows, we meet the adult John Byron. Byron is the detective sergeant who runs the violent crime unit in Portland’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He is separated from his wife of twenty years and battling alcohol addiction. Living in a dingy little apartment in Portland’s West End neighborhood, Byron’s life is in disarray. The one thing John excels at is homicide investigations, but his crumbling personal life is putting his career in jeopardy.

If you’d like to learn more about Detective Sergeant John Byron, pick up or download a copy of Among the Shadows or Beneath the Depths. I promise it will be one hell of a ride!

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Friends Around the World

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, thinking about communicating with people in distant places and feeling nostalgic. These days international correspondence is almost commonplace. Blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and a host of other ways into cyberspace provide an instant connection to friends and strangers alike. Email and instant messaging allow those relationships to develop on a more personal level. You can even talk face-to-face if you want to, using cameras built into your computer or phone or whatever.

Okay, I’ve reached the limits of my technological knowledge. I write books on my computer. I do email, this blog, and I have a Facebook page. I have web pages for each of my names. And that’s about it. That’s enough to put me in touch with people from dozens of different countries. My “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women” in particular draws email from other lands and has, on occasion, led to lengthy correspondence.

And that brings me to what prompted this particular blog. Does anyone remember pen pals?

Back in the dark ages when I was growing up (that would be the 1950s and early 1960s), the way we reached out to people in other countries was by writing letters. It wasn’t fast, but oh the excitement when a letter arrived from Australia or India or Japan. For several years before I hit my teens, I was an enthusiastic pen pal. I’m not sure how I acquired the first one, but I know that there were pen pal sections in many publications, printing names and addresses of people looking for people to write to in other countries. One of those publications was a comic book I read regularly about a young model named Katy Keene. I wrote to one of the addresses in the pen pal section, possibly in Australia, and in time a letter came back. The person who’d originally advertised for a pen pal had done so several years earlier and was now quite a bit older than I was but she’d passed my letter on to a younger friend and I corresponded with that girl for a number of years afterward.

Looking back, memory faulty and the actual letters long gone, I don’t know what I wrote to various pen pals or, for the most part, what they wrote to me. I hope I didn’t inadvertently insult anyone. Certainly there were cultural differences that surprised me. My pen pal in Singapore, Vivien Yeo, wrote to tell me of her marriage . . . at thirteen. It was arranged by her parents. Hannelore Weiss, in Germany, sent me picture postcards . . . of buildings my father knew from first-hand experience had been bombed during World War II. Then there was Sonoko Mitsufuji (I think that’s the correct spelling but I won’t swear to it) from Japan. Her older brother paid a visit to the U.S. during the time we were corresponding and came and stayed with us. My father took him to a Rotary Club meeting.

I wish I still had those letters. If any of them sent me photos of themselves, those are long gone too. Sadly, so are most of their names. If I could remember more, given today’s technology, I might be able to reconnect with a few of my pen pals. There was Heather. Was she from Australia or New Zealand? I had a pen pal in each country. There was Carole from Bristol, England. I thought of her the first time I visited Great Britain at age twenty, but by then I’d already forgotten her last name and street address. My pen pal in India was a boy. He asked me to trace my feet and send the tracing to him. Nothing kinky. A few months later he sent me a pair of shoes. I sent him a photograph of me wearing them.

I don’t know why I stopped writing those letters or exactly when it happened. I suppose it was a gradual thing as I turned from kid into teenager and outgrew my interest in pen pals, and that the same thing was happening to my correspondents. What about you, our faithful blog readers? Did you have pen pals when you were younger? Did you keep in touch as you got older? And what do you think my chances are of reconnecting with one or two of my former pen pals now that I’m putting this post out on social media?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (X Marks the Scot—December 2017) and Deadly Edits series (Crime and Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. New in 2017 is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and



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