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The Ruins of Woodman’s Village” by Albert Waitt.

The Maine Sunday Telegram




The concluding paragraph of Review (if you want to opt out of spoilers):  Maine writer Waitt reveals a great talent for crafting a provocative, compelling mystery in “The Ruins of Woodman’s Village.” He exhibits masterful confidence in pacing, taking time to lay out all the pieces, then deeply setting the hook to reel in the ending without a snag. It is a story with social substance, making it all the more engaging.


Nothing much seems to happen in Laurel, Maine, in Albert Waitt’s novel, “The Ruins of Woodman’s Village.” Which is a perfect setup up for a compelling mystery.

In the coastal southern Maine town, Police Chief Tim Nichols, who lives in the house he grew up in, never had the ambition to become chief. He just sort of fell into it. Nichols is known by all as LT, which stands for Little Tim. (He became infamous in fifth grade for knocking out the front tooth of a boy who called him Little Tim.) The town fills with tourists in the summer, and his department keeps busy directing traffic, issuing tickets and breaking up fights. In the off season, the town becomes near somnolent.

This all changes in 1986, when a disheveled woman bathed in sweat stands glowering at the counter in the police station fuming over why LT had driven her twin 16-year old daughters out of town. Nichols doesn’t recognize her, but by her appearance and demeanor, he assumes she is from Woodman’s Village, an enclave of impoverished kin located five miles outside town. She demands to know where her daughters are, as they’ve been missing for five days. He professes he knows nothing about it. He wants her to file a missing person’s report, but she isn’t having it. She just wants her daughters back.

“She may have been the only person from the Village to ever enter the station not in handcuffs,” he thinks. Such was rare, as Village folk, comprised of the Connolly, Sampson and Woodman families, are reclusive and manage their own affairs. And they’re tightly controlled by Eugene “Boomer” Woodman, a beefy Vietnam vet. The woman, LT comes to understand, is Cory Connolly, Boomer’s sister.

“If someone was walking toward town and they were in jeans and a flannel shirt, whether it was August or January, and it looked like they needed a bath, it was likely someone from the Village.” The townspeople vehemently disdain Villagers as animals.

Nichols begins to investigate. He learns that the twins, Holly and Maisie, earn a pittance from their uncle Boomer digging sea worms and nightcrawlers to be sold as fish bait. On the weekend, they walk to town to buy ice cream at Scoops.

Nichols learns that the last time they were seen, they were walking toward town when their brother, Caleb, picked them up in his purple Ford Galaxie. When Nichols goes to the Village to bring him in for questioning, Boomer Woodman attempts to assault him for trespassing, but Nichols manages to spin and throw Boomer, causing him to crash into the bumper of his patrol car, knocking him out. LT places Caleb in his squad car and departs, leaving the entire Village, including men holding rifles, staring after them from the porches of their plywood and tarpaper shacks.

Caleb is held for questioning. He says he has no idea where his sisters are, offering perhaps they’d gone off to California, as they had talked about.


Nichols learns in talking to Jimmy Goodwin, the football star who works at Scoops, that though they had planned to go to California, they had not. “They needed to save a lot more money. And they needed to graduate.”

“’How did you get to know them so well?’ ” the chief asks. Goodwin tells him that he and Holly were chemistry partners in school.

“’And you got her through?’”

“He laughed. ‘No sir. It was the other way around. I would have never passed that class if she hadn’t helped me.’”

He said the girls had friends, and not just kids from the Village. They were bright and funny and ambitious. Pressed, Goodwin reluctantly admits that he and Holly were involved.

Waitt spends the first half of the book carefully laying out the ostracism of the Villagers and the animosity the townspeople generally harbor toward them. As the investigation plods along, Nichols grows increasingly aware of his lack of skills as a competent law officer. Divorced, his relationship with Susanne, a divorced friend from high school, simmers on low heat. His connections with deputies and a network of townspeople fill the canvas of the story, diffusing the tension of the mystery’s central pivot: the disappearance of the two girls.

That all suddenly changes when Nichols gets a tip from a sleepless townie who saw a dark car parked at the bottom of her driveway in the middle of the night. This leads him into the woods to an old quarry where he swam with friends back in the day. There, he finds the twins’ bodies. Maisy’s skull is damaged. Holly has been shot two times. Caleb Connolly becomes a prime suspect.

Boomer Woodman shows up at the city jail and commands that his nephew not say another word to anyone.

Cory Connolly, their mother, anguished over her daughters’ murder, is further traumatized by her less-intelligent son Caleb becoming the sole suspect after the murder weapon is found taped to the bottom of his tool chest at the garage where he works. Her pleading with him to divulge what he knows is met with silence. She is convinced, however, that he is innocent.

Connolly gradually comes to appreciate that Nichols has worked hard to find out what happened to her daughters. She begins to open up to him. She tells him that they shared classes in high school – which Nichols does not remember. His lack of memory crystalizes the potency that social bias plays in distorting people’s perceptions of others.

Connolly shares that they were in the same English class in high school. Nichols has no memory of this. She cites their assignment to read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She recounts Atticus Finch telling his young daughter, Scout, that you can never know someone until you walk in their shoes. “Do you think we don’t know what you people say about us.”

Nichols is spurred to probe harder into the murder of the girls. The story deepens, revealing layers upon layers of complexity in the back half of the book.

Maine writer Waitt reveals a great talent for crafting a provocative, compelling mystery in “The Ruins of Woodman’s Village.” He exhibits masterful confidence in pacing, taking time to lay out all the pieces, then deeply setting the hook to reel in the ending without a snag. It is a story with social substance, making it all the more engaging.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel “Dream Singer” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by bestselling novelist Barbara Kingsolver “in support of a literature of social change.” Smith can be reached via his website,



“The Ruins of Woodman’s Village,” by Albert Waitt.

Bushnell On Books, The Kennebec Journal



About small towns, German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said: “The nice thing about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.” That is

true about the small coastal town tourist town of Laurel, Maine; unfortunately for Police Chief Tim Nichols, people know a lot, but nobody tells him anything and he can’t prevent murder.


“The Ruins of Woodman’s Village” is Kennebunkport author Al Waitt’s excellent mystery of class hatred, criminal conspiracy and cold-blooded murder set in 1986. Waitt has struck gold here with a clever, convincing plot, subtle clues (read carefully), accurate cultural atmosphere and a truly engaging, colorful cast of characters: especially Chief Nichols.


Waitt masterfully draws a disturbing picture of social class enmity between Laurel’s tourist- and business-oriented townspeople and the unwashed residents of Woodman’s Village several miles away — a clannish, inbred mix of three families ruled by a ruthless, hateful bully.  When Nichols learns that two teenage girls from the Village have been missing for five days before being reported, he knows he’s in trouble. He’s in over his head as a small town cop. Divorced, pudgy out of shape, enjoys booze and not the brightest bulb, he’s well-liked by the town and his officers, but nobody helps his investigation.


Stony silence, threats, intimidation, deliberate misdirection, and an assault don’t side-track his determination to be a good cop and find the girls, but only a lucky hunch will produce a stunning result. However, that result will expose an insidious scheme of greed and violence well beyond the shacks and bitterness of Woodman’s Village and Laurel’s smug, tidy downtown.


Gripping suspense, smart plot twists, and exciting action mark this as a marvelous mystery. We can only hope we’ll see more of Chief Nichols.


Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell

Albert Waitt @ the Graves Library, April 19th, Kennebunkport, ME

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