Reviews From Book Lovers

BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Vaughn C. Hardacker

The fifth mystery/thriller from Vaughn Hardacker

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER

Private investigator Ed Traynor’s normal caseload involves insurance fraud, missing persons and messy divorces. Now, however, it’s murder, and the victim is John, Ed’s younger brother. Ed is mad and somebody is going to pay in blood.

Vaughn C. Hardacker

MY BROTHER’S KEEPER
By Vaughn C. Hardacker
Skyhorse Publishing. 2019
256 pages, $16.99

My Brother’s Keeper” is Stockholm author Vaughn Hardacker’s fifth mystery/thriller and the second mystery featuring private investigator Ed Traynor (“Black Orchid”). Hardacker is a three-time finalist for the Maine Literary Award, an honor well-deserved and long overdue. His mysteries and thrillers are hard-hitting, gritty stories of murder and mayhem, heavy with graphic violence and constant plot twists.

Ed’s brother John is a low-level petty crook and drug dealer, killed in an apparent drug deal rip-off. The brothers are estranged — one an ex-cop, the other a bum — but Ed still feels grief, anger and guilt over John’s death. He vows to get John’s killer, permanently.

Ed’s investigation reveals John’s involvement in a $3 million armed robbery of a drug kingpin’s “bank,” but Ed can’t believe John was smart enough or brave enough to pull it off. Still, the money is gone, John is dead and some bottom-feeding dirtbags think Ed knows all about it.

He is a tough customer, unencumbered by morality or legal niceties. He beats up witnesses and anybody else who gets in his way, discovering the missing $3 million actually belonged to some other really serious bad guys. He also discovers his brother was smarter than anyone expected, setting off a chain reaction of drug gang double-crossing, betrayal, torture, multiple murders and wild gunfights.

Watch carefully for clues. Hardacker is clever with suspense and misdirection, but the clues are there for the observant reader. Even Ed finally tumbles onto the real killer, the real motive and where the money really is. And it will be a surprise.

BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: Wendigo

Vaughn C. Hardacker

Kennebec Journal May 24, 2018
A chilling supernatural thriller that you'll want to read with the doors locked...

By Bill Bushnell
American novelist Saul Bellow (1915-2005) once so profoundly wrote: “There are evils … that have the ability to survive identification and go on forever …” And the Wendigo is truly one of those evils.

“Wendigo” is Stockholm, Maine, author Vaughn Hardacker’s excellent fourth novel, a chilling supernatural thriller to be read at night, indoors, with all the lights on and the doors and windows locked.

Vaughn C. Hardacker

It’s a bitterly cold January in Maine’s northernmost woods, and Maine Game Warden investigator John Bear is frightened. His Maliseet Indian heritage tells him that the eviscerated body of a dead snowmobiler is the grisly work of a Wendigo, an Algonquin evil spirit in humanoid form; a creature stinking of decay whose unnatural appetite for human flesh cannot be satisfied. The Wendigo hunts at night, feasting on the solo and unwary, he is “human, yet not human.”

Even John thought his grandfather’s stories of the Wendigo were just superstitious baloney to scare children. But after seeing the dead body and the Wendigo’s gigantic tracks in the snow, he is convinced. But nobody else believes him; they scoff, saying the killer is just another backwoods psycho.

The Wendigo’s appetite is insatiable — the more he eats, the hungrier he gets, driving him to feed constantly, even hiding body parts for future dining. When more human remains are discovered, John and other officers try to track the Wendigo, not realizing they are the prey, not the predators.

The Wendigo can recruit a human disciple, exposing a family clan to unspeakable horror before John can intervene. This is a scary tale of legend and myth, with the grim realities of a high body count, graphic violence and a game warden facing his greatest fear. Remember all those hikers who disappear in the Maine woods each year? Guess what?

BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: ‘Creating Acadia National Park’ and ‘Black Orchid’

Vaughn C. Hardacker

CREATING ACADIA NATIONAL PARK: THE BIOGRAPHY OF GEORGE BUCKNAM DORR
By Ronald H. Epp

Friends of Acadia, 2016
393 pages, $20

When people think of Maine’s Acadia National Park, they often think that John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the park’s founder. Even today that’s the only prominent name folks remember associated with the park. And they’d be wrong.

The real “father of Acadia” was a Boston Brahmin named George Bucknam Dorr, a wealthy, scholarly gentleman with the vision, financial resources and determination to make a dream come true.

Vaughn C. Hardacker

“Creating Acadia National Park” is historian Ronald Epp’s excellent biography of Dorr (1853-1944), the “founder and first superintendent of New England’s only national park and the central figure in Maine’s land trust movement.” This year is the 100th anniversary of Acadia, so this biography is a fitting tribute to both the man and a natural treasure.

Epp spent 15 years researching and writing this book, a richly detailed history of Dorr, Acadia and the National Park Service. He tells how and why Dorr devoted his life to preserving much of Mount Desert Island’s beauty, an early effort at land conservation for public use.

Epp reveals that Dorr was a complex man — a generous philanthropist, a visionary skilled at maneuvering through the obstacles and opponents in state and federal government bureaucracies. Best, however, is Epp’s fascinating history of the park. Created initially as a national monument (without congressional approval) in 1916 — originally called Sieur de Monts National Monument, then later named Lafayette National Park in 1919 — it was finally declared as Acadia National Park in 1929.

Epps tells how Dorr deftly combined land donations and property purchases to amass the thousands of acres of Acadia, about the thorny conflicts over road construction (carriages versus autos) and even Cadillac Mountain’s summit hot dog stand.

This is a remarkable story, well-supported with period photos, but with few maps.

BLACK ORCHID
By Vaughn C. Hardacker

Skyhorse Publishing, 2016
359 pages, $16.99

Stockholm, Maine, writer Vaughn Hardacker must like the fictional crime-noir of Raymond Chandler and the true-crime darkness of the infamous unsolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder case in Los Angeles. Elements of both are clearly evident in his latest mystery, featuring a hard-boiled private detective, a beautiful rich girl and a cesspool of bottom-feeding criminals.

This is Hardacker’s third book, following “Sniper” (2014) and “The Fisherman” (2015). Although too long by 50 pages, and overly ambitious with its complex plot, “Black Orchid” offers suspense, action and a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the pornographic film industry in California.

When Portsmouth, New Hampshire, private detective Ed Traynor is hired by a wealthy corporate heiress to find her younger sister, he quickly realizes he is in way over his head. He tracks the missing girl (a wannabe actress) to Los Angeles, learning she was murdered and mutilated, her body identifiable only by a distinctive tattoo of a black orchid on her leg.

Aided by an ex-LAPD cop and an ex-DEA mercenary working for the family, Ed and his two skilled and lethal pals discover that the victim’s only starring role was in a rape/murder “snuff” film. Outrage and revenge drive these men and the older sister to hunt down the killers.

Their cross-border investigation leads them to a slimy Mexican drug lord, a slick Hollywood pimp, a disgraced Polish movie director and a smarmy, highly-placed political operative close to the California governor.

Car chases, fistfights and lots of fancy gunplay mark the fast-paced action, while sharp surveillance, clever threats and ungentle prodding inspire the suspects to make desperate mistakes and turn against each other, guaranteeing the reader a high body count and a predictable tough-guy ending.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.