A few weeks ago, my wife and I were browsing in a wonderful bookstore in Camden, Maine and I asked the lady behind the counter for any recommendations by local authors that were of the “mystery” genre. She immediately mentioned Paul Doiron, the editor and chief of Down east: The Magazine of Maine. I purchased a copy of Doiron’s first iteration of his Mike Bowditch series; THE POACHER’S SON and it did not disappoint.
Doiron’s main character, Mike Bowditch is a game warden in northern Maine and through his eyes the author conveys what that avocation entails on a daily basis. His descriptions are impeccable especially dealing with vacationers, particularly those who emanate from Massachusetts. The usual approach that Bowditch takes during boating and fishing season is to check boat registrations, fishing licenses, and floatation devices and periodically he will come across people who resent his questions and only offer abuse until they comply with his requests. The stories he relates are priceless as he discusses the traffic on Route 1 as Massachusetts residents clog the roads heading north and to his credit, he refrains from describing their regional nickname, “Mass holes.”
Doiron also relates Bowditch’s job description, expectations, and the public’s view of what he does. Bowditch is perfect for the role based on his longing for privacy and his commitment to the animals he must police and prevent being abused by the public.
The novel itself revolves around the murder of a Somerset County police officer, Bill Brodeur, and Jonathan Shipman, a lawyer for Wendigo Timberland LLC, a company who purchased a great deal of land and forest in the northern timberland which would result in the eviction of numerous lease holders who have lived in the region for over thirty years. One of the lease holders is Mike’s father Jack who he had been estranged from for years. It seems the state police and local authorities are convinced that Jack Bowditch was the murderer, and for some reason Mike, who has a very low opinion of his father and describes him as a “saloon brawling logger with a rap sheet of misdemeanors and the public persona of a Tasmanian devil.” Mike is fully aware what an SOB his father is, but he could not accept the fact that he was a murderer. Despite his feelings concerning his upbringing and his father in general he decides to risk his career in order to prove his innocence as Jack believes that he is being framed.
The hazards of Mike’s career choice are on full display as he must confront people who have vendettas against animals, particularly bears who take the law into their own hands when their property is attacked. In this current situation he is up against law enforcement, local individuals, and even his stepfather who believe that his father is a murderer. Mike’s fear is that if his father does not turn himself in, he will be killed as he killed a police officer. As Doiron develops his plots, he integrates Mike’s upbringing, and we learn a great deal about him as well as his dysfunctional parents who divorce when he is nine years old.
Doiron develops a series of interesting characters, the first of which is Charley Stevens, a retired game warden who still fly’s his pontoon plane throughout the region to assist the state police. Stevens is a perceptive individual who served as Mike’s mentor when he decided to become a game warden. Katherine Frost is a Sergeant and Mike’s boss who does her best to help salvage Mike’s career when he engages in a number of self-destructive actions while trying to save his father. Other important characters include Sarah Harris, Mike’s ex-girlfriend who he still loves; Brenda Dean, Jack’s girlfriend; Russell Pelletier who ran the Rum Pond Sporting Camp, Vernon Tripp, the owner of the Natanis Trading Post, and Truman Dellis, Brenda’s father, all of whom had reason to kill the Wendigo lawyer. Lastly, Detectives Wayne Soctomah and Mike Menceri who are in charge of the murder investigation and believe Jack is guilty.
Doiron’s environmental views are front and center in each chapter as is his love for the ecology of the region. He writes with wit and a certain amount of sarcasm and weaves a web of intrigue that enhances the story line and contributes to the reader’s experience. Two key themes that dominate the novel are Maine’s changing landscape and unconditional love between a father and son despite their negative history. The novel is about relationships and outdoor adventure and is a sterling debut which became an Edgar Award finalist and easily absorbs the reader’s attention. Having completed THE POACHER’S SON, I will begin the next installment of Mike Bowditch’s path in life, TRESPASSER and other books in the series.