Something there is about a small town, and a little extra something about a small town in Maine. At least that’s the way Mainers think of it, including Earl Smith, whose first comic-mystery novel, The Dam Committee, affectionately portrays the lakefront community of Belfry, Maine, with its many quirks and foibles.
Smith, College historian and emeritus Colby dean, has fashioned an endearing tale of small-town life, albeit one centered around a murder and a suitcase full of purloined cash. The central characters, cronies Harry and Nibber (and an anthropomorphic golden retriever named Winston), find the loot in a snowbank and proceed to surreptitiously and anonymously donate to worthy Belfry causes. This causes an uproar as townspeople speculate about who might be the secret benefactor—and as Harry schemes to unmask the real murderer.
The mystery coexists with the town’s regular doings, which are related with understated charm. There’s the dam committee of the title, a political entity that controls the level of the lake, with all of its ramifications. There is the annual town meeting, where the cemetery sexton pessimistically reports that too many people are dying, and the cemeteries may soon be full. And the orchard owner who indignantly asks that the deer-crossing signs be moved from his property. “I think I’ve done my duty and I want the town to move the signs and let somebody else deal with the damned deer.”
As the plot twists and turns, it’s clear that Smith, a resident of Belgrade, knows these characters well and is fond of them. As he said in a recent appearance at Colby, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Sure you can. And Smith has done just that, allowing readers a visit to the place he calls home and to the fictional world he has created from it.