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The Bay, gore, the Shore -- and more

A bay is expected to have boats, but the Chesapeake is attaining more and more distinction for its books. True, no Pulitzer Prizes since 1977 (William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers), but by now a private, comprehensive bay library would pile higher than many a mast. Your latest need is Window on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People and Places, by Wendy Mitman Clarke (Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Va., 152 pages, $24.95).

Window ties into the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a Clinton-era assemblage of 100-plus parks, wildlife refuges, museums, ancient settlements and water trails, under National Park Service aegis. Clarke, who is executive editor of Chesapeake Bay Magazine, here presents two such Pennsylvania sites, 19 in Maryland and 17 in Virginia, each with an individual guardian or sponsor.

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Clarke can sense a story over, in, under or near the bay: e.g., the annual Bernie Fowler Patuxent River Community Wade -- how far out from shore can you walk and still see your sneakers? Of the bay's 150 tributaries, the biggest single polluter is (sigh of relief) still the Conestoga River -- in Pennsylvania. Even in that 400-acre woodland floodplain, Adkins Arboretum, near Ridgely, with its 600-plus species of wildflowers, honeysuckle is a menace.

Sunshine, light breeze, easy swells -- a great day for reading.

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To get with the new Rebecca York novel, Killing Moon (Berkley Publishing Group, 330 pages, $5.99), you should open your mind to the idea of transformation. Using an old Gaelic formula, and given 24 chromosomes instead of the customary 23, a person can turn into a beast.

And, at will, back again. Not your everyday occurrence, but as here played out in the woods and housing spreads of Howard and Montgomery counties, mainly after dark, this arrangement lets blood. What a hunky man would never do --apply his fangs to the villain's jugular -- a wolf could.

Our hero is Ross Marshall, private investigator, who grew up in Parkville; our heroine, Megan Sheridan from Boston, is a Bio Gen Labs researcher. Our villain is, at the moment, a nearby shopping-mall security guard who preys murderously on womankind. You should also notice a county police detective and white hat named Jack Thornton.

York (a pseudonym for Ruth Glick, of Columbia) counts 96 published books by now, mostly thrillers but 14 of them cookbooks. Her national following derives partly from blunt language, partly from not cluttering up the story line with secondary plots, partly from a reader's feeling that the confrontations, however gory, will turn out right in the end. True, that genetic abnormality has caused children to die young, in our hero's family; but do not worry, our heroine is still and always will be an experimental geneticist.

African-American Entertainment in Baltimore, by Rosa Pryor-Trusty and Tonya Taliaferro (Arcadia, 128 pages, $19.99) is the latest book in a series called Black America, itself a subdivision in Arcadia's continuing attempt to record -- using local writers and a uniform format of pictures and captions -- the nation as it was.

This volume's photos, assembled from a dozen collections and any number of private albums, center on 24 named night clubs, the Royal and other movie theaters with stage shows, radio and television personalities, the Sphinx and other social clubs, businesses, kids' recreation. The span is 1920s to 1980s; inevitably, The Avenue (Pennsylvania, from the 1400s almost to North Avenue) is an epicenter; West Baltimore outdoes East and South.

Pryor-Trusty, an entertainment columnist, and Taliaferro salute not only the great names in music and comedy and management but also the elbow benders and starmaids who helped jive the nights away. In Arcadia's methodical nostalgia, this is one of the best books yet.

If there's still no movie or TV serial titled Oysterback, let us not fidget. The Eastern Shore's Brigadoon remains as visitable as ever to anyone capable of reading a novel or short story. Helen Chappell, who earlier pictured these few-score hilarious water's-edge indigenes in The Oysterback Tales and Oysterback Spoken Here, brings fresh news of them in A Whole World of Trouble (Simon & Schuster, 213 pages, $23). On a trip to Florida, Audrey Hudson has been terminated by an alligator; the town criminal, Alonzo Deaver, has broken out of jail but won't rightly hide; Audrey's daughters, Earlene and Carrie, are cat-fighting worse than ever.

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Some liken Oysterback to Lake Wobegon, off there somewhere; others, to hairspray Hampden, on the Western Shore. Well, forget them and Brigadoon, too. The home town of Ferrus T. Buckett, carver of instant-antique decoys; of Carlotta Hackett, queen of the Delmarva Poultry Festival of 1953; of Patti's Christian School of Tap and Ballet -- Oysterback isn't all that impressed by you, either.

Several new set pieces ornament Trouble, in particular, Carrie's working life. Daily, she drives off in her van before sunup, to hit the yard sales -- a full-time picker, she then sells her haul to collectors and dealers. Too much commotion for a lone woman, by Shore standards.

A funny thing happens on the way to a happy ending. Our changeless setting of watermen and chicken farmers, of interbreeding and pre-1900 mindsets -- is this, underneath, an entirely male hegemony? Setting aside her zinger wisecracks and her hilarious stupidity parade, Chappell does well by her women. When Carrie and Earlene reach peace and fuse energies, somehow a tiny change has occurred in Eastern Shore tilt.

Here's a surprise -- a novel about Oakington, the old Millard Tydings bayfront estate in Harford County. It's called Oakley Manor in the historical novel Ghosts in the Garden (Dorrance, 140 pages, $14) by Eleanor Davies Tydings Ditzen. The author's father was Joseph E. Davies, ambassador to the old U.S.S.R.; her first husband was U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings; her son is Joseph D. Tydings, former U.S. senator from Maryland.

Ditzen moves back and forth across whole centuries, starting and ending with Serena Oakes, young heiress to the estate, who is about to marry young Anthony Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Serena has nightmares, and sees ghosts and, more than once, almost gets killed. The story moves back to the first white Colonists and the Susquehannocks; on to the Revolutionary War; the Civil War; and a 1600s Churchill-Marlborough interlude in Olde England.

These goings-on add up to a stomachful of wealth, privilege and celebrity, as Lafayette rests up at Oakley from a battle wound, and John Wilkes Booth rides in on the train from his family's nearby country place.

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Today, Oakington is home to Ashley, a posh alcohol and drug-treatment center. Ditzen, who will be 100 next year, is a lady of lively mind.

James H. Bready writes a monthly column on regional books. Previously he worked as a reporter, editorial writer and book editor for The Evening Sun.


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