The Sin Mark

by Margaret Page Hood – published 1963.    Although this is the last in the Fox Island books, its kind of a prequel as Gil Donan isn’t yet on Fox Island. He is mentioned once as having applied for the job as constable for the island.

Tom Caldwell was an off-islander who bought the island, Rolling Stone, and lived there for several years.  He left the island more than 50 years ago under a cloud of mystery and sin, living in sin there with local girl Mariah Winslow who had a large,dark red birthmark on the side of her face, a sin mark, according to the islanders. But every year the tax money for the island arrived nice and neat. Any extra left after the taxes were paid was to go to Mariah who lived alone on the island. Now Tom has died (Mariah three years earlier) and Fernald Clayter, selectman, has received a letter from the lawyer. Tom has set up a fund, interest to be used to pay the taxes on Rolling Stone, property to remain in the name of his estate, not to be sold, and trespassing forbidden. He’s left $25,000 to the township on Fox Island to be used at the discretion of the resident doctor for the benefit of children handicapped by disfigurement or with physical disability. BUT there’s a provisional. A separate letter was sent to the minister with instructions for the provisional, which was to be announced at a town meeting. And thus begins the gossip, anger and accusation throwing that turns the whole town on its head.

I don’t want to tell too much of the story as I’d rather it unfold for you as you read it, and I definitely recommend it as well as all of Hood’s mysteries. There is a great mystery that happened on Rolling Stone that precipitated Tom leaving the island suddenly and Mariah living on there alone and hermit like the rest of her life. Not only does this provisional bring about the truth of what happened on Rolling Stone nearly 50 years ago, but brings to the surface other ‘sins’ hiding on the island among its people. A little different from most mysteries, but fascinating! And of course there’s Hood’s beautiful use of language, sense of place and characters with meat on them.

My mom always sang Go Tell Aunt Rhody to the kids when she would rock them, but she only ever sang part of it and I never did know the whole thing. Mariah sang it in the book and now I know what happened to Aunt Rhody and the old gray goose!

                 Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody,  Go tell Aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead. She’s worth savin’, she’s worth savin’, she’s worth savin’, to fill a featherbed.

I’ve tried to find a picture of the cover of this book as my old hardback doesn’t have the dust jacket but I couldn’t find not one picture of a cover! I did find a copy of this book for sale at Abebooks that says it included the dust jacket in good condition, so the book drunkard that I am, I had to buy it so I could have the dust jacket and see the cover! But it won’t be here for a couple weeks. All her other books had lovely covers. She wrote one more book, Tequila, set in New Mexico. I’ve ordered it and now I’ll have all her books. I’ve tried and tried to find out info on her online and nothing. But yesterday I found correspondence between her and a woman with the Maine State Library on Maine State Library State Documents. They were written between October 1950 and April 1963. Fascinating! She gave her biography at the request of the woman. I took screen shots of the letter from Ms. Hood and will share it here for you. You can read all the letters here if you like. Ms. Hood was born in Connecticut 1892 and died in 1983, I assume in New Mexico.  Her Great Grandfather lived next door to the Longfellow family in Maine!

Update! I got the book with the dust jacket and now have a picture of the cover! Here it is…

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This book counts towards The Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt @Bev’s My Readers Block. Silver era 1963 – shadowy or ghostly figure

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The Funeral Maker by Cathie Pelletier

Meet the residents of Mattagash, Maine, a dull backwater town rocked by scandal. seduction, mayhem, blackmail, and the only recorded case of beriberi on the entire North American continent! 
This is the story of the trials that beset the McKinnons, the first family of Mattagash, Maine, when they try to arrange a funeral for the family matriarch. At the heart of the novel are the three McKinnon sisters: Marge, the one who is dying; Pearl, the one who left town; Sicily, the one who stayed–and Sicily’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Amy Joy, a bored and sexually promiscuous adolescent whose raging hormones lead her straight into the brawny arms of one Chester Lee Gifford, Mattagash’s blackest sheep. One of the most highly acclaimed debuts in the last decade. 

The Funeral Makers is ‘a crazy rollicking whoop of a book, written with a poets’s sensibility and a deeply wacky down-home wisdom’    ~Lee Smith, author of Oral History

‘Pelletier writes with skill and grace, with a beautiful ear for human speech, awry affection for human folly and a wise, warm heart for human sadness.’
~Michael Malone, author of Handling Sin

‘Morbidly funny…satirizes, ridicules and maligns almost everything that’s sacred about American life.’     ~John Blades, Chicago Tribune

I picked this book up at the Naples, Maine library book sale this last summer. I like quirky and this is the queen of quirky! At first I thought it might be too quirky for me, I kept thinking I should be reading a Christmas mystery right now. But without me even knowing it Pelletier was reeling me into these wacky people’s lives and suddenly I couldn’t put it down! How she was able to get me invested in these nutty peoples lives just goes to show what a good writer she is!

A scene from Thelma and Marvin Jr’s ‘family camping experience’…

Hearing the faint gurgle, Thelma was the first to face the truth, coming suddenly awake and shouting to her husband, “Oh, my God! There’s a flood! The river has flooded!”
  Junior Ivy was granted, for the second time in two days, an opportunity to save his entire family. He struggled to abandon the sleeping bag, managing to get one leg out, but catching the other pants leg in the sharp teeth of the zipper. Trying to leave the tent by means of one leg in a sleeping bag proved more difficult than vaulting drunkenly from the backseat of the Packard.
  Thelma continued to scream, accompanied by Regina, who was now convince that she had indeed peed in her pants and was confused over what she considered her mother’s overreaction.
  “We’ll drown!” Thelma prophesied. Regina covered her eyes and wept in embarrassment. She knew she had a bed-wetting problem, but had never thought of it as a danger to her family.
  Junior stood up, hoping it would enable him to free his leg. At that moment Thelma, in an extreme case of hydrophobia, lurched for the flap opening and knocked her husband to the ground.
  Junior pitched forward, pulling up the pegs of the tent and taking the unlucky structure with him into the blackness until he felt the ground stop him. Pain flickered in his right wrist, which had positioned itself in an unnatural angle in hopes of releasing the pants leg from the zipper and was not prepared for breaking a fall. The wrist snapped. Junior heard it. Knew what it meant. A broken right wrist to accompany his sprained left ankle. He held the right arm across his stomach to protect it as he worked clumsily with the left arm to free himself of the tent. Everyone was wide awake now and dealing with the situation with honesty.
  Regina, who had checked her panties and found them to be reasonably dry, felt an apology was in order. She skulked off to the camper, where Randy and Cynthia stood sleepy, but round eyed in the door.
  Because her husband had uprooted the tent, Thelma found herself on the open ground. The bedding was now being bombarded by rain, as well as the water running down the pathway. But there was no flood. She was quite sure of that now. She heard Junior moaning. The pole light the town had erected near the campsite provided little light in the downpour. Thelma could see what looked like a living mountain of canvas swaying to and fro in the wet night. 
  “Junior? Are you under there, honey?”
  “Oh, my wrist,” moaned the hulk of canvas.
  “God! You look so funny!” Thelma burst out, when her eyes finally adjusted to the contours and discovered what must be Junior’s form beneath. She was seized with laughter, uncommon in Thelma, who perceived excessive gaity as unladylike.
  A crude syllogism surfaced in Junior’s mind. Major premise: He had broken his wrist when Thelma had stupidly shoved him in the dark and sent him sprawling with tent. Minor premise: He went sprawling because of his imbalance created by one pants leg being caught in the zipper, which happened because Thelma had shouted, “Flood!” Conclusion: Kill Thelma.
  Junior dove, tent and all, in the direction of Thelma’s laughter, which had moved nearer to him. Thelma, who could see, stepped aside and let the bulky form hurl past her.She stopped laughing.
  “What are you trying to do?” she asked her husband. “Don’t you want me to help you?”
  “I’m trying to kill you, Thelma,” Junior shouted. “You can help if you want to.”
  Hearing a savage, entirely primitive noise coming from the throat of the man she had married, Thelma ran for the camper, shoving the children back inside and locking the door.  Junior shed the tent and ran after her, forgetting about the symbiotic sleeping bag that still clung to him. He fell face first into the remains of what had been, before the rain, a pleasant morning campfire…

Morbidly funny really sums up this tale! But in all the silliness, Pelletier hits on serious issues and deep sadness in the characters. This is one that you will chew on well after you finish reading it. This is the first book in the four book series: Mattagash.

Peggy Ann

Candlemas Bay by Ruth Moore

This book was originally published in 1950 and reprinted by Blackberry Books in the 1990’s. 308 pages

The Ellis family was a well known and respected family in Candlemas Bay, ME for many generations. Nathaniel Ellis settled it when he was just 19. Grampie, Jebron Ellis, is the last of the old line. His son, Guy, is an alcoholic. Guy’s son Jeb is made from the old mould and wants to learn everything he can about his ancestors and their livelihood -fishing. Guy does nothing to help him. Grampie takes him under his wing.

Highly in debt, and owing Grampie a large debt for a loan to get a new modern fishing boat, Guy moved his family of 8 in with Grampie and Guy’s three sisters. Tensions are high with sister Candy who thinks she rules the roost. Could there be a bit of insanity going on with her?
A tragedy happens and everyones lives are forever changed.

I loved, loved, loved this one of Ruth Moore’s books. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in two days. Ms. Moore is a master at communicating a place and a people, their thoughts, their talk, their geography. She takes you there to feel the spray of the ocean and feel the damp of the fog and smell the food cooking in the kitchen. This is the third of her books I’ve read, you can read the other two reviews here. I have 4 more of her books on the shelf to read and I’m hoping I can find the rest someday!

This is a nice write up on Ruth Moore if your interested.

Peggy Ann

Drown the Wind by Margaret Page Hood

from book jacket…
Andy Bruce was the most hated resident of craggy, windswept Fox Island off the coast of Maine. A tough, vigorous bantam of Yankee shrewdness, he had stepped on the toes of most of his neighbors as he clawed his way to control of the island’s property and wealth.

When Andy’s body was found one frosty dawn – his skull smashed in by a marlin spike – Gil Donan faced his most baffling case and an almost limitless array of prime suspects:
-Old Bill Pickford, who was about to be destroyed by Andy’s latest political coup.
-Bill’s wife, Emma, who had tried to temper Andy’s ambition and passions by throwing herself on his mercy.
-Letty Peaslee, a pale, delicate beauty whose destiny was under Andy Bruce’s sinister control.
-Letty’s finance, Jimmie, a handsome, rebellious young man who knew the secret of a sensational real-estate deal Andy was plotting to work out with a Hollywood movie star.

These and a host of other suspects – all of them stubborn, proud, and craftily evasive – force Sheriff Donan to draw upon all his ingenuity and skill to unravel his toughest case.

With keen understanding of Maine islanders and their ways and an infallible ear for their sprightly talk, Margaret Page Hood has created her finest story of murder and suspense. Drown the Wind is the most exciting Gil Donan mystery of all – a splendidly plotted book, rich in characterization, memorable in atmosphere and mood, and sparkling with salty wit.

By the end of the first chapter your rooting for someone, anyone, to murder hateful, egotistical Andy Bruce! Then the fun of finding out who finally had enough and did begins! Another great mystery by Margaret Page Hood! Sadly this is the last Gil Donan book. There’s one other mystery set on Fox Island, but it doesn’t feature Donan.

I loved all of her books, her sense of place and characterizations are spot on and I devour these little mysteries set in a place I adore. If you haven’t read them, try to get your hands on a copy and you’ll be hooked too!

Vintage scavenger hunt: just one person

The Bell on Lonely by Margaret Hood Page

The Bell on Lonely was an awesome sound to the natives of Fox Island, for its tolling had come to be a signal of trouble, violence or death. Over the years the tiny island – owned and inhabited by only one family – had been visited by a series of tragedies, until people on Fox whispered of a family curse and took care to steer clear of the waters around Lonely.

 And then, one gray afternoon, the copper bell rang out again and Deputy Sheriff Gil Donan set out to investigate.

 Gil found Dave Brackett, the owner of the island, dead beneath his own boat. it looked at first like another of the tragic accidents that had repeatedly struck the Brackett family. But there were curious circumstances that suggested to Gil not simply another bizarre mishap, but planned and premeditated murder.

Lonely, what a wonderful name for an island in a mystery! Atmosphere abounds in this tale…

‘The fog was cold as death breathing down his neck. He cast an uneasy eye toward Lonely Island drifting by in its slithering curtains. Damned unlucky place! He’d never set foot on it, even when he was a kid, although the terns nested on the southeastern tip and eggs were thicker than huckleberries for a boy’s stealing. Never took this passage home to Fox from the mainland even though it was a short cut which lessened the distance a couple of miles. He wasn’t the only man didn’t have a liking for Lonely. None of the lobstermen around Fox set their pots in the deep waters lying off its southwestern shores. No kids picnicked there, gathered the wild strawberries that reddened in the warm grass of its sloping meadows. No women went to pick apples although the orchard old Jed Brackett had planted still bore the best early cooking apples in Penobscot Bay. Especially no women visited Lonely.
  They claimed the sight of bloodstains frightened them. A red stain ran like a bleeding wound down the granite beyond the crescent of pebbled beach. couldn’t be bloodstains, their men told them. Not after all these years.’

Are you intrigued yet?

‘The shoes were old and scuffed, the soles heavy-corded, the laces frayed and knotted. The shoes of a man who’d walked a lonely way beside a woman he didn’t love. Nonsense, thought Gil, I’m assigning pathos to a pair of inanimate objects. I’m an incurable sentimentalist, standing at the moment in need of my good friend Doc’s astringent materialism.’

Sentimental is definitely one of the traits of Sheriff Donan! He is always loathed to have to find out who did it and arrest them. But justice must prevail!

 ‘I don’t say any of them did. I only say Dave’s the type of man whose actions may have brought about his own death.’ Sal responded.
  ‘In other words, Dave deserved to be killed?’
  ‘You persist in misunderstanding me. I don’t mean that at all. What I’m trying to say is you should be careful in fixing the blame for his death, since he himself may be the one at fault. It would be fairer to call it an accident, the accident of Dave’s own nature. As a representative of the law you’ll think this is silly and illogical. I’m sorry I started this conversation. Please forget it.’

Oh, Gil may have a really hard time with this one!

Great read!

Bev’s Vintage Scavenger Hunt Gold (1959) category shadowy figure

The Murders on Fox Island by Margaret Page Hood

1957

They called her a wanton, 
the people of Fox Island, but Jeanne Marie was only young and full of high spirits.

Her constant teasing flirtations, with any man and even with his own brother, are meaningless – or so Jeanne Marie’s husband told himself.

Until the night he found her lying on her bed in a flimsy nightgown. Dead. With his dead brother beside her.

And found himself the chief suspect for double murder.


In this book, Deputy Sheriff Gil Donan is finally beginning to be seen as a mature, confident law man…

‘Gil Donan, still the same gangling, long-legged awkward cuss he’d appointed as deputy for fox Island with much misgiving when Red Anderson left for the Wisconsin stone quarries. Two years Gil had served the island, and if his youthful frame hadn’t yet thickened to the set shape of maturity, he carried now an unconscious air of authority, a calm acceptance of his own ability to handle the intricacies of island problems.’

Doc, the local doctor, is becoming more and more a real help and confidante of Gil’s. I love them as a team. Doc knows the island people so well and he has a great sense of humor. While there is always some of the same residents in each book there is always someone new introduced too. I love the continuity and relationships in this series. So many good ‘suspects’ in this one!

 ‘As they passed Fox and ran along the back shore of Vinalhaven the waves were smashing against the rough granite boulders, sending the spray high in the air so that, catching the sun, it sparkled with a hundred tiny rainbows. Even the usually quiet waters of Indian Creek leading to the lobster pound were racing wildly along the sandy beaches.
 Cries hands were firm on the wheel, the cigarette sagged unlighted from his mouth. Crow Carver’s boat bucked the waves, slapped its bottom so violently in the trough that the pots and kettles in the galley rattled, and the floorboards of the wheelhouse creaked and groaned.
  The seals, sunning themselves on their rocky ledge, slid with loud splashing into the sea as the boat passed close. The air above the barren island where the sea gulls nested, its rocks whitened with droppings, was filled with the flurry of wings as gulls shelled and turned in the wind.’

Can’t you just imagine yourself there?

Gil went to ask Grandma about Uncle Judson’s youth and she served him something called parkin. 
“Here,” she said putting a plate and glass of before him, “fresh parkin I baked this morning. Got the recipe from an English woman used to live here when the quarries was working. Nothing like parkin and a glass of fresh milk to wash it down.”
  The parkin had a good chew to it, flavored with molasses and spice. Gil ate greedily. Wiping the milky mustache from his mouth he asked the old lady what she could tell him about the hermit of Huckleberry Hill.

I had to go on a search for parkin of course then. Found this recipe. Can’t wait to try it!

The original title of this book was In the Dark Night. Why do publishers feel like they have to change titles? If I was an author I wouldn’t like them messing with my work that way! I have a small old Dell paperback and they changed the name. I love the cover on this one and I so love the feel of these old small paperbacks in my hands as I read. Now to go right to the next in the series and decor them all at once or leave a couple for a treat later?

This book will count for the red head on the cover category in Bev’s Scavenger Hunt Gold 2016

Peggy Ann