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"Evocative setting, delightful characters, and pitch-perfect period detail, all wrapped up in an intriguing mystery. I loved it from start to finish.” -- Dorothy Cannell, She Shoots To Conquer
"Who is Carolyn Chase, and why is it so important that we meet her before Maggie's even had time to unpack?" Will Brewer asked his great-aunt. He sat close to Maggie Summer on the weathered wooden gliding rocker overlooking Maine's Madoc River.
Deep blue tidal waters stretched wide in front of them, the calmness of high tide interrupted only by the voracious cries of herring gulls circling an occasional lobster boat on its way to unload the day's haul. Maggie's hand squeezed his as cool, late-day salt breezes gently ruffled the escaping pieces of the long hair she'd pinned in a casual knot hours before.
"Carolyn's a very dear woman," said Aunt Nettie. Her back was cushioned by green-flowered pillows on the Adirondack chair, but her feet were planted firmly on the porch floor. Maggie suspected Aunt Nettie had sat in that very chair, in that very spot, on early August days like this for most of her ninety-one summers. "I know your drive from the Cape was long, Maggie, but I just couldn't wait for you and Carolyn to meet. You could be an enormous help to each other."
Maggie looked from Will to Aunt Nettie. "I thought I was coming to Maine to relax. And do that antiques show you told me about, Will." And most important, spend time with the man she loved. Her back ached from the drive, and she didn't want to think about any more tasks. The Provincetown Show hadn't gone as well as she'd hoped. This trip to Maine might refill both her emotional and financial coffers.
"Don't get your knickers in a knot," said Aunt Nettie. "Lord knows I'm tickled to have both of you as guests. Will's been a widower so long I'd about given up hope of his finding some woman worth paying attention to. When I met you last summer, Maggie, I knew you were the right one."
Maggie kicked Will lightly in consternation. Will just grinned and squeezed her hand.
Aunt Nettie turned to Maggie. "Now, I'm an old woman, and know enough not to get in the way of young love, but you have to understand I have a few little things for Will to help me with this summer. You'd just be bored watching him work. I thought you could help Carolyn with her research while Will's busy."
Aunt Nettie had plans to fill not only Will's days, but hers as well.
Will winked at her, clearly not intimidated by his great-aunt. "I've always spent part of my summer helping Aunt Nettie with chores. When I got here two days ago she gave me this year's list. It seems I'm to paint her house, replace the gutters, and repair some shutters."
Maggie swallowed. A few little things! Visions of romantic walks on the beach and picnics on the rocky Pemaquid shore were dissolving before she'd recovered from her drive north.
"Don't be complaining, Will Brewer. You know I've got to keep this place in order or else someone's going to declare me incompetent and ship me off to some nursing home. Your cousin Shirley's already dropping assisted-living brochures on my coffee table. I plan to die in this house, and I intend for it to be in good order when that day comes."
"You're in perfect health," said Will. "As healthy as an ox. I'll talk with Shirley. But what about this Carolyn Chase? There have been Chases in Waymouth for generations. Who's Carolyn, and how does she fit in?"
"She's Helen Chase's daughter, of course," said Aunt Nettie. "Helen was my dear friend Susan Newall's cousin. Surely you remember Susan, Will."
Maggie, who'd lost the genealogy thread several names ago, dropped Will's hand and sat up straight, ending the gentle back-and-forth movement of the glider. "Helen Chase. The artist, Helen Chase?"
"That very one," nodded Aunt Nettie. "I knew you'd be interested! Carolyn's heard of you, too. She read an article you wrote about Winslow Homer in some artsy magazine. She was very impressed when I told her you were my Will's lady."
Maggie ignored the references both to her relationship to Will and to her academic publications. She was with him now, although what their futures held she didn't want to guess. It had been a stressful spring, and she wasn't up to making any long-term decisions. Not that Will was suggesting she do so.
As a professor of American Studies, occasionally she had to prove she could publish. As an antique print dealer on weekends and vacations, topics related to nineteenth-century American artists were obvious choices for scholarly articles. "I don't know as much as I should about mid-twentieth-century artists." Maggie searched her brain. "Wasn't Helen Chase from New York City? And didn't she die about ten years ago?" If Helen Chase were the artist Maggie was remembering, her idiosyncratic oil paintings of New York City and its residents had found homes in some of America's top museums.
"Exactly right," Aunt Nettie nodded in approval. "I was sure you'd know who Helen Chase was. She did live in New York City. But her family history is here in Waymouth, where her grandmother was born, and her great-grandmother before that. Her daughter Carolyn used to spend summers here with my friend Susan. Now do you remember her, Will?"
Will shook his head. "I remember your friend Susan, but not a relative from New York."
"Carolyn's a few years older than you. I guess your paths didn't cross. Still, she and her mother, Helen, have roots in Maine, and Maine roots run deep. That's why Carolyn's here." Aunt Nettie leaned back in her chair and sipped her iced tea as though she had now explained everything.
Maggie smiled at Will and gently shook her head.
No matter what Aunt Nettie had planned, it was good to be in Maine. She was with Will, away from the tensions and decisions of life in New Jersey. Winslow Homer, her cat, was comfortably sharing summer quarters with Uncle Sam, the American Studies department cat, at her secretary's home. Her new red van had made it to Maine after the disastrous antiques show in Provincetown where she'd barely made enough sales to pay booth rent, but at least she'd been able to spend time with her best friend, Gussie White. Her bank account might be too low for comfort, but on the whole, life was good.
Maggie's antique print business was named Shadows. Prints are images of the past, bringing reflections of earlier lives and images to the present. Here on the coast of Maine, sitting on a nineteenth-century porch overlooking a river harbor once filled with three- and four-masted schooners, Maggie felt closer to that past than she ever did at home in suburban New Jersey. She glanced down at her worn jeans, wishing they'd magically transform themselves into a long, lace-trimmed linen skirt.
The air smelled of salt water and of clams being fried at a small restaurant on the next block, and the man she loved was beside her. Maggie tugged teasingly at his soft, gray beard. He pulled her wayward hand to his lips.
Aunt Nettie pointedly looked out over the porch railing at a bright blue kayak making its way through the wake of a small motorboat.
This was the first time Maggie had stayed at Aunt Nettie's house. She'd have to be on her—their—best behavior. She might be thirty-nine years old, but she'd already noted that she and Will had been assigned rooms at opposite ends of the second floor. Aunt Nettie's room and the one small bathroom in the house were between them. She hadn't felt so adolescent since she was in junior high school.
"When will we get to meet Carolyn, then?" asked Maggie, pulling herself back to the moment. "What research is she doing?"
"I'll let her explain. She should be here any moment now," said Aunt Nettie, looking toward the road. "I invited her for haddock chowder and blueberry pie. Even being from New York City, I'd expect her to remember that in Waymouth supper means six o'clock."
As though on cue, a tall, almost stately woman strode around the corner. From a distance she reminded Maggie of Katharine Hepburn: someone confident, and comfortable with herself. Her gray hair was short, but fell softly around her face, and her jeans and sweater were clearly from Madison Avenue, not L.L. Bean. She was perhaps in her late fifties. No wonder Will hadn't remembered her. Despite his gray beard, he was at least ten years younger than she was. As children vacationing in Maine they would have had very different interests.
Carolyn joined them on the porch and handed Aunt Nettie a bottle of Australian Chardonnay.
"I hope I'm not too late?" she asked, with a relaxed smile.
"You're right on time," said Aunt Nettie approvingly. "This is my nephew Will, and his friend, Maggie Summer, who I told you about. Will and Maggie, this is Carolyn."
Her handshake was firm. "Pleased to meet you both. I'm sure Nettie's told you all about my summer's quest. I've been longing to talk with someone who understands my project and can give me some advice and counsel."
Aunt Nettie took the bottle of wine and headed into the house. "You young people talk, while I check on the supper. Will, you come on inside in about ten minutes. I'll need you to open the wine and heft the chowder pot. After supper I have some pictures to show you all." The screen door banged as she disappeared into the house, clearly having left them an assignment.
"I just got to Waymouth an hour ago," said Maggie. "Aunt Nettie said you were Helen Chase's daughter, and I've always admired her work. I'm afraid Nettie didn't tell us what you were doing here, except that you were doing research."
"Nettie's a special lady, for sure," said Carolyn. "She probably just assumed you would figure it out. I've been in town several months now, and everyone seems to know. No secrets in Waymouth. My Aunt Susan is in a nursing home, and not doing well. Her mind is fine, but at ninety-seven her body is giving out. She was living at home, with help from a local home health aide, Joann Burt, until she fell last spring and broke her hip. She knew I was writing a biography of my mother, so she suggested I come here, stay in her house, and finish up my research. Between us, it was a way she could ask for help, and be giving help, too."
Will and Maggie exchanged smiles. That was just what Aunt Nettie might have done.
"Of course I came as soon as I could. On Tuesday nights the Waymouth Library hosts people doing genealogical research. It's a good way to learn where records are in Maine, and compare notes with others searching for their roots. Nettie comes once in a while. She's lived here all her life, and she remembers so much she's often a help to people."
Will nodded. "She once told me she did that. She enjoys sharing memories and stories of the past."
Carolyn agreed. "I've seen her identify faces in old photographs, and suggest directions to look when someone hunting for genealogical information comes to a dead end. She's the only one left who remembers that 'Ruth's youngest girl married a young man over to Camden'—which can be critically important for someone trying to trace their background. Anyway, Nettie told me you were coming to Maine and—click! Here I am. If I'm interfering with your plans, just tell me."
"So you're looking for your family history," said Maggie.
"Mother seldom talked about where she came from. I don't think she knew much, except that her grandmother was born in Waymouth. And the little she said didn't add up. For example, she'd always told me her grandparents died in an accident, but I can't find any record of that, although I did find their graves over in Sprucewood Cemetery. Susan has hinted she knows more, but she's never told me anything. And now that I'm actively looking I keep running into dead ends." Carolyn shook her head. "What's most surprising is that I'm finding connections with other artists. Mother never mentioned Waymouth's being a town of artists, like Monhegan or Ogunquit. But there have been artists here for years. In fact, Betsy Thompson, who I met at the genealogy group, is quite positive that her husband, who's an artist, is a descendant of Winslow Homer. Her father-in-law was an artist, too. His family has apparently been bragging about the Homer connection for years. Certainly Betsy lets everyone know about it!"
Maggie tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh. "That's amazing! So far as I know, Homer never married, or even had a serious romantic relationship with a lady friend. Or gentleman friend, so far as that goes."
"That's what I'd heard, too. But it seems there are a lot of family stories in town that support the Homer-Thompson connection. Kevin Bradman, a Harvard grad student, is here for the summer working on a history of Maine artists' connections to Waymouth, so he would love to prove that connection, too. It would make his doctoral thesis publishable, so he's hanging on Betsy's every word."
"'Publish or perish' is not just an old saying. Scholars would kill for proof that Winslow Homer sired a line of Maine artists!"
"Then you understand why Homer is a hot topic on Tuesday nights at the library!" said Carolyn.
They laughed, and Maggie shook her head. "I know a little about your mother's work. I've never heard of the Thompsons. But the twentieth century isn't really my field. You haven't told me what you think I could help you with."
"I'm not looking for help with the twentieth century. I know the artists who were my mother's contemporaries. Many of them were her friends. And rivals. I hoped you could help me with some information from the late nineteenth century."
Maggie looked thoughtful. "I know late-nineteenth-century prints and publishers. And I know the major painters, like Winslow Homer, of course. But the wood engravings he did between 1857 and 1874 are what I know best. He did them before he lived here in Maine, in Prouts Neck, where he did some of his greatest paintings."
"I'd love to chat, and share what I've found with you. I know you've just arrived, but would you be free for lunch tomorrow?" asked Carolyn.
Maggie looked at Will questioningly.
He nodded. "Go ahead. I have to measure and then get paint samples tomorrow morning." He looked at Carolyn and grinned. "My paint will go on the outside of Aunt Nettie's house. I'll leave the fine arts to you ladies." He looked at Maggie. "After you've had an artistic lunch with Carolyn you and I can spend the afternoon together." He got up. "Right now I'd better go and see how Aunt Nettie is doing with our chowder."
"Lunch sounds like fun," agreed Maggie. "Noon, at the Waymouth Inn? I've always wanted to eat there."
"Aunt Susan asked that I visit her at the nursing home in the morning. But I never stay long; she tires easily. Noon sounds fine."
After supper Will and Maggie sat on one side of Aunt Nettie and Carolyn on the other side as the elderly woman carefully opened the worn red morocco leather cover of an old photograph album.
"Carolyn's been the one asking about her past, but Will, it's time you knew who you came from, and Maggie, you're a part of Will's life now, and you're going to be helping Carolyn, so I want you to see these, too," she said. Her tiny body looked as though it could hardly support the weight of the album she was balancing, and Will and Carolyn each reached out to hold a side of the large volume.
"Who are these people?" Maggie asked.
"This was my family." Nettie replied. "Some of yours, too, Carolyn. In the days people think were simpler." She pointed at the picture on the first page. "These are your great-grandparents, Will. My parents." The couple was posed formally, the woman seated, wearing a high-necked white dress adorned only by a cameo brooch on the pleated bodice, her husband standing stiffly behind her, his hand on her shoulder. Neither smiled. "Handsome, both of them. Could smile if it was required. But that wasn't often."
Nettie turned the page. "This is the year I was born, and your grandmother, Kathleen, was married, Carolyn. She's the tallest girl, over there on the right."
Carolyn leaned over the book, clearly fascinated. "I've never seen a picture of her before. She has light hair, like mine. Who are the others?"
Excerpted from Shadows of a Down East Summer by Lea Wait Copyright © 2011 by Eleanor S. Wait. Excerpted by permission of Perseverance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 5, 2011
Shadows of a Down East Summer
Author Lea Wait
Publisher Perseverance Press
Maggie Summer had plans spend time in Maine with her boyfriend Will. They had plans to go antiquing together, working a few shows, and just spending alone time working on their relationship. She arrived to find that Will's Great Aunt Nettie already had some of Will's days planned out for him.
Will is one of Nettie's sole relatives and he cares about her very much. He spends a few weeks a year doing maintenance on Aunt Nettie's cottage. Maggie was not aware of this and felt just a little put out. Aunt Nettie also had some plans for Maggie. She wants her to meet her friend Susan Newall's Cousin Carolyn Chase. Carolyn's mother was Helen Chase a well known and highly collectible artist.
Carolyn would like Maggie to help her with some research she was doing into early family history and to go through a box of papers, letters, and diaries that belonged to some recent ancestors.
Maggie (and Will) are going to find themselves caught up, not only in a local murder, but also tracking down family histories to help solve this cruel and vicious crime.
Ms Wait is back stronger and better than ever. I'm looking forward to a lot more stories in her
Antique Print Mystery series. Ms. Wait has a way of virtually dragging you into the pages of her book and enveloping you in the story.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received this book from the publishers in the hope that I would read and review it.
Posted February 21, 2011
In Weymouth, Maine, Great Aunt Nettie introduces her nephew Will Brewer and his girlfriend antiques expert Maggie Summer to Carolyn Chase, daughter of the artist Helen Chase. Carolyn read a published article that Maggie, a professor of American Studies, wrote on Winslow Homer. They look at the extended family tree as Carolyn explains she would like Maggie's help with research on a bio she is writing about her late mom.
The next day Caroline tells the Weymouth Historical Society members and guests Will and Maggie that her Aunt Susan, who just died, gave her a trunk of documents from the late nineteenth century that said their ancestor killed his wife for cheating on him before committing suicide. Before she can bury her aunt, someone murders Caroline. Maggie calls the police and Detective Strait answers the call. While he investigates the homicide, Maggie looks back to what happened in 1890 that she believes led to the present murder. She begins to look closely at the relationship between Homer and two women who posed for him; while knowing she could be next.
This entertaining Antique Print regional cozy (see Shadows on the Coast of Maine) looks deeply into the late nineteenth century art world in Maine. The cast is fully developed and the whodunit fun, but it is the glimpse into Winslow Homer and his era's art that makes for a delightful amateur sleuth.
Posted February 1, 2011
Young women of the Victorian era were expected to be pristine, unblemished and pure. But how did they really behave? Were calculated means employed to achieve desired marital ends? Lea Wait seems to think so in the time traveling, murder mystery "Shadows of a Down East Summer." In the summer of 1890, the lives of Jessie and Anna May are irrevocably changed. Echoes of the intensity of their experience linger in the air of Waymouth just off the coast of Maine.
Fast forward to the present day and visiting antique print dealer, Maggie Summer. After discovering Anna May's journal, the girls' long held secrets begin to unravel. However, as Maggie gets closer and closer to reading the diary's final entry, death, violence and destruction descend all around her. Someone does not want Maggie to know what really happened to Anna May and Jessie that summer, and they'll stop at nothing to keep her from learning the truth.
The novel excels when the setting shifts to 1890. With Anna May as the narrator, she relates how she and Jessie were hired to pose for the renown artist, Winslow Homer. The eccentric recluse paints them as fisherwomen repairing nets with their hair unrestrained hanging loosely around their shoulders and feet unadorned of stockings and shoes. Both were cultural taboos for well brought up young ladies of the time period. As propriety starts to wane, so do the girls' sexual inhibitions. Swept up in the bohemian influence of the artist's cottage, they readily consent to try new things without fully realizing the perilousness of their position.
The majority of the story is focused on Maggie's quest to follow the breadcrumbs left by Anna May. While a likable character, the details involving Maggie slow the dramatic pacing. It is not exactly riveting material to follow her around a rained-out antique show or an L.L. Bean outlet store. While Wait's attempt at infusing local color is welcome, especially the delectable seafood dishes, having Maggie as the book's driving force seems misplaced. Since the book is the fifth in a series of Maggie novels, the choice seems correct at the outset, but flounders as it progresses onward. The gripping, page turning momentum lies in 1890, and not with Maggie.
Since Wait is a fourth-generation antiques dealer, herself, she blends her knowledge into catalog-like listings of paintings, prints and maps to begin each chapter. These are fascinating snapshots of collectible artwork such as hand-colored lithographs by Currier & Ives and wood engravings from Harper's Weekly. Dimensions are given as well as their estimated current value. These gems of knowledge serve to foreshadow the theme of each chapter. From the death of President Franklin Pierce's son in a train derailment to the idealized figure of the Gibson Girl, Wait's carefully selected treasures add a level of authenticity to a book subtitled "An Antique Print Mystery."
Overall, the momentum of this antique thriller gets bogged down in the present.
Posted April 22, 2011
No text was provided for this review.