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Some spies never rest; revisit fictional Door County

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Tom Nash seemingly has it made. He's a retired British spy. He lives on the Cote D'Azur, the French Riviera, hobnobs with artists and writers and expatriates like Gerald and Sara Murphy.

His reckless days as a secret agent seem well behind him, and he's so confident that he's out of the woods he leaves his Beretta revolver locked up in a desk drawer.

Then one night someone tries to kill him.

Who might that be?

It's 1935 and the world is working its way to another war, with Nazis and Communists and everything in between plying their spycraft in the most unlikely places.

It's all told in "House of the Hunted," by Mark Mills (Random House, $26).

Mills, who lives in Oxford, England, won the British Crème Writers' Association Memorial Dagger award for his first novel, "Amagansett."

It's easy to see why after a romp through "House of the Haunted" as Mills mixes history with espionage.

Think John Le Carre and pick up Mills's new book.

For an inexpensive trip to one of Wisconsin's premier tourist sites, read "The Baileys Harbor Bird and Booyah Club," by Dave Crehore (University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95).

Crehore, a longtime resident of northeastern Wisconsin and retired writer and photographer for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has captured the spirit of Door County in fictional form.

Although his new book reads like a documentary of the goings on in Door County in the off- as well as the on-season, it's actually made up of characters created by Crehore.

The focal point is the courtship, marriage and life of George and Helen O'Malley, who grew up in Door County, moved on to Chicago, then returned to their natal place upon retirement.

When they were kids the hordes of tourists had not discovered Door County, so the O'Malleys were shocked to learn of the current real estate values and found they couldn't afford to buy a conventional retirement home.

Instead, they purchased an abandoned tavern on an obscure lake called "Coot" and settle in for the duration of their lives.

Of course they have neighbors, like Hans Berge, a psychiatrist from Chicago and "Bump" Olson who makes his living pumping septic tanks.

"Bump" reminds me of a former septic pumper here in River Falls, whose motto was "your fecal matter is my bread and butter."

The various neighbors have beer parties, Thanksgiving potlucks, eat pizza topped with codfish, attend class reunions and generally have a swell time, angle to catch Marilyn "a buxom eight-pound smallmouth bass."

At the end of each chapter the O'Malley's retire to their bedroom in the old Coot Lake Lodge.

It is strongly suggested that they're still very much in love because the only time George rebuffs Helen's advances is when his aches and pains from wrestling all day with Marilyn prove to be too much.

I've only visited Door County once, and I was somewhat turned off by all the Chicago opulence on the bay side.

Crehore's book gave me a welcome taste of what life is like in that beautiful neighborhood when the tourists leave and return to Chicago where they belong.

Butter $8 per pound?

Corn Meal 10 cents an ounce?

Eggs $4 per dozen?

Folks who suffer sticker shock when purchasing organic food and wish to justify the high cost of organic food need only look to a new book, "Turn Here -- Sweet Corn," by Atina Diffley (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95).

Author Diffley and her husband Martin run a consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC. But they're not mere theorists.

From 1973 through 2007, they owned and operated "Gardens of Eagan," one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest.

From that experience, Diffley has crafted a fascinating look at the hazards and challenges of raising food, from the threat of hailstones to political maneuvering to encroaching suburban development.