BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: ‘Death of an Italian Chef’ and ‘Salt and Roses’

DEATH OF AN ITALIAN CHEF by Lee Hollis; Kensington Books, 2021; 329 pages, $8.99; ISBN 978-1-4967-2497-7 .

DEATH OF AN ITALIAN CHEF

On cooking, American actor WC Fields (1880-1946) once said: “I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” And that pretty much sums up the cooking of Italian Chef Romeo when he opened his Italian restaurant in Bar Harbor. Then somebody kills him.

“Death of an Italian Chef,” by the Maine-born brother and sister writing team Lee Hollis, is the 14th book in the Hayley Powell Mystery series set on Mount Desert Island. This volume follows the Halloween murder mystery “Death of a Wicked Witch” (Kensington, 2020).

Chef Romeo is a colorful, boisterous restaurateur — overweight, over-loud, over-boastful and now over-dead. The police and his doctor are convinced he died of a heart attack in the hospital, but Hayley isn’t so sure that’s true. She is the food writer for the Island Times, and thought she knew Chef Romeo well. She was wrong.

Hayley is a savvy journalist and an even better amateur sleuth. Her curiosity is raised her brother who thinks he will witness by the murder of Chef Romeo, but he isn’t certain. There are other witnesses, too, but nobody will admit it (and for good reason). The police don’t seem to care even after odd evidence surfaces and an attempted murder occurs, and their overt disinterest worries Hayley.

As Hayley investigates Chef Romeo’s death, a key witness disappears, a New York City mob hitman sneaks into town, threats start flying, and phony identities reveal a much bigger problem for everyone.

However, despite the initial excitement and dramatic potential, this mystery bogs down as a Bar Harbor soap opera complete with corny, stereotype characters, and an unimpressive conclusion. This mystery recipe needs more garlic, Parmesan and a lot more wine. WC Fields had the right idea.

SALT AND ROSES: THE COASTAL MAINE WAY OF LIFE by May Davidson; Islandport Press, 2021; 167 pages, $17.95; ISBN 978-1-952143-17-5 .

SALT AND ROSES: THE COASTAL MAINE WAY OF LIFE

English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) wrote that an essay “must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.” And May Davidson’s essays in
Salt and Roses” do that beautifully.

For years, Davidson (b. 1929) wrote the “Lower Round Pond” column for the Lincoln County News, and many of these 50 short essays appeared there. She and her husband, Jim, also invented the popular Maine Buoy Bell.

Davidson is a talented, experienced writer and these essays clearly show her skills with words — creating visual images and emotions — the reader can almost see, smell, hear and feel her vivid descriptions. She writes about growing up on a farm near Bremen, traveling with her husband, raising show sheep on their own farm, people, animals, nature, weather and boating. Some stories are poignant, others hilarious.

In “Shadows,” she thinks about nature’s light and how it can change and beautify — moonlight, sunlight, twilight and dawn light. In “Moonlight and Icicles” she describes a cold, silent winter night where “even our harshest season provides the diamond edges of beauty.”

Several essays are laugh-out-loud funny like “Uncle Angus and Newfie,” about the uncle’s unwashed, unfragrant and disruptive visit to the bank, how a herd of cows got drunk, and about boat owners who have no idea what they’re doing. Other essays tell how a deer-hunting trip in the 1950s produced no deer, but did bag a wise-cracking Californian, along with lyrical and charming stories of a mystical moose, annoyed honeybees, pigs, pranks, the husband who never talked and the wife who never stopped talking.

Learn about wooden ice skates, a guaranteed way to get a seat on a crowded subway, and why Davidson positively believes “after every sunset comes another sunrise.”

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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