September-October 2013 | LAST CALL: BEHIND BARS




The ever-popular Smitty McGee's Raw Bar & Restaurant is definitely the star of this locally penned novel

Written By: Nick Brandi

If you’ve ever thought it would be fun to have a novel set in your own backyard, with protagonists and a narrator who see that town pretty much the same way you do, then you’ll be happy to know that Behind Bars has arrived.

Co-authored by Maryland natives Dorsey Butterbaugh and James Willey, Behind Bars is not only set in Fenwick Island but specifically at one of the Eastern Shore’s iconic watering holes, Smitty McGee’s. It is also the story of Dr. Adam Singer, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon who has escaped to his Fenwick Island retreat in the wake of a personal tragedy.

Reclusive in his self-imposed exile, he decides one day to get a haircut during one of his medicinal walks. Little did he realize at the time that his spontaneous and seemingly benign inclination would ultimately reroute the course of his life. At the suggestion of Mel, his comely hairstylist, he later decides to stop for a libation at Smitty’s, where he meets Bobby, a gregarious bartender who eventually becomes both his friend and confidant. Along the way, he is treated to a new slice of life from the perspective of a barstool that he might never have known otherwise, simultaneously confronting his own personal demons through the prism of a shot glass.

Of the locally flavored texts that are the fodder of Book Smart, this is among the better written. The narrative flows like rail booze during happy hour, each of its 308 pages going down with the ferocity of a tequila shot at a bachelorette party.
You’ll be done before you know it, but not before you wend your way through a steeplechase of local-culture references and institutions. You’ll not only get the answer to that age-old question “How much money does the local economy take in during Bike Week?” but also learn the best hangover food. The book mentions Harborside and their famous orange crush, while also disclosing the length of Smitty McGee’s enormous bar (spoiler alert!): 127.5 ft., putatively the longest in the region. There are also nods to local institutions like Thrasher’s, Fisher’s Popcorn, Dumser’s, Old Time Photo and Ripley’s. If the Eastern Shore is your stomping ground, you’ll enjoy seeing your favorite haunts weaved into the fabric of a novel and may revel in guessing who the characters may be based on. If you are instead unfamiliar with the area, you’ll come away with a first-rate primer on the pillars that have come to represent this community to the world.

Predictably, Behind Bars — like every other self-published novel Book Smart has reviewed — is in significant need of a good copyeditor, yet the solecisms only occasionally come at the expense of clarity. At the end of the day, however, such is just a function of mechanics and will not offend any but the most punctilious reader in the case of this particular text.

Rumor has it that this literary duo is already at work on a sequel, Secrets in the Sand, which, considering the mise en scène of Behind Bars, makes Book Smart wonder if the second installment will be set at Seacrets.

By Dorsey Butterbaugh and James Willey
Copyright (2013)
320 pages

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