I feel as if author Paul Doiron is my personal discovery, but of course that’s ridiculous. I read his first book, The Poacher’s Son, right after it came out and recommended him to several friends and mystery fans. I immediately fell in love the main character, Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch, his dysfunctional family struggles, and the wild setting of rural Maine. Unfortunately, few of his subsequent novels left me wondering if he had lost his voice. The natural beauty of the setting and the life-like characters of backwoods Maine were lost to a more sensational plot line. His newest novel, however, felt more like the writer who won this reader over in the first place. In Widow-maker, Mike Bowditch runs into a woman who claims her missing son is Mike’s half-brother by his hard-drinking, womanizing father. And she wants Mike’s help to find him. Despite his desire to forget his past, Mike can’t resist uncovering the truth, but the truth comes with ugly ghosts from his past, the rescue of a wolf-dog, a near death experience, and a trip to a colony for sexual predators. In this novel Doiron returns to the story of Bowditch’s troubled relationship with his father and spent considerable time exploring his legacy as an outsider, which added depth to the story. I was terribly disappointed with the ending, however. It felt abrupt with many unresolved plot points, almost as if he had hit some page count and decided to just wrap it up in the most expedient (and easy) way possible. Just the same, an entertaining read from an author who has the ability to create life-like characters.
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I’m a fan of mystery writer Paul Doiron and feel as if I discovered him (after all, I was one of the first to read his Edgar Award finalist novel The Poacher’s Son and recommend it to my mystery loving friends.) His latest work, The Precipice, takes us to the Hundred Mile Wilderness area of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Two young women have gone missing, so heroic game warden Mike Bowditch is called in to help with Search and Rescue, interrupting a romantic vacation planned with his new girlfriend, wildlife biologist, Stacey Stevens. During the search, Bowditch is teamed up with a legendary AT hiker “Nonstop” Nissen, who is fit but misantrhopic volunteer with a shady past. When the girls fail to turn up, it looks more and more doubtful they will be found alive. Meanwhile, those who encountered the girls along the trail are telling stories with varying degrees of relation to the truth. Tensions mount when their bodies are found at the bottom of a precipice, torn apart by wild coyotes. The townspeople and hikers spin out of control in a witch hunt to eradicate the coyotes, but meanwhile, Bowditch has his hunch it was human, not canine, that caused their deaths. The book comes to an exciting man hunt conclusion, rife with backwoods violence.
What I particularly enjoy in all of Doiron’s novels is the wild and terrible beauty of backwoods Maine. He paints a realistic scene of both the poverty, ignorance and squalor along with the natural landscape and breathtaking wilderness. The beauty of nature is often juxtaposed with the ugliness of life. In this story, his description of the life and culture of the Appalachian Trial day and thru-hikers is fascinating and a colorful backdrop. His treatment of the life of a game warden is handled well, especially when describing the frustration of working with FBI, local police and sheriff’s office during an investigation, illustrating the limitations of his powers. This story kept me guessing to the end (and not wanting to reveal any spoilers, I won’t elaborate.) I did not, however, feel as if the motivation for the perp was sufficiently explored. Also, Doiron has his fun with several misguided preachers in the story, casting them in a very poor light. Some of the tale hinges on the possible motive of a hate crime, when it is revealed that the “Bible student” girls were secretly lesbians. This part of the story feels a bit artificial and forced in order to play against the moral certitudes of these two-dimensional self righteous preachers. Another thing I felt was missing from the end of the story was the reaction of the parents. The girls both have powerful parents who fly into Maine to oversee the search efforts. We get a glimpse of them with the impression they will continue to cause problems for law enforcement, especially when it is revealed that the girls were a couple, but then they drop from the picture. Lastly, I did not enjoy the character of Stacey, Bowditch’s new love interest. I felt she was unnecessarily erratic, cold to the point of being cruel at times, and generally unloveable. It was hard to believe he would see anything in her.
Overall, as always, Doiron delivered a great story sprinkled through with beautiful descriptions of the Maine landscape.
Paul Doiron, author of The Poacher’s Son, has penned a series of books featuring Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch. His strength as an author lies in his characterization of the people and landscape of Maine, imbuing his stories with a strong sense of place. I have always been a sucker for stories that do this well. Doiron has created a likable main character in the person of Bowditch–an honest man with a very troubled past. When he makes his bad decisions–which he often does–we as readers are right along with him for the ride. In this story, Mike is obsessed with the disappearance of a girl from the scene of an accident, only to turn up later as the victim of a grisly murder. Mike Bowditch blames himself for not pursuing the missing girl and while conducting his own non-official investigation, runs afoul of the police, public officials, and many others (including his live-in girlfriend). Author Doiron’s portrayal of the brutal poverty of Maine juxtaposed with the natural beauty of the landscape is what keeps me coming back to his stories. The plot in this one, however, lacked something and the big reveal of the murderer at the end felt motiveless and flat. That being said, still would pick up one of his novels for an entertaining read.
After reading “Inherit the Dead,” a mystery written by a compilation of famous mystery writers, I decided to pick up a book by one author whose writing really stood out: C.J. Box. I chose one of his earlier novels, Winterkill. In the story, his main character, a Wyoming game warden named Joe Pickett, becomes involved in a gruesome murder of a federal agent just as a winter storm is descending on his small, Wyoming town. The murder, concurrent with the arrival of a group of anti-government reactionaries, draws a particularly bizarre and unbalanced Forestry Service agent to the small town along with some unsavory FBI thugs. The agent, Melinda Strickland, is hell-bent on conducting a raid on the reactionaries encampment and finds the truth an inconvenient detail when faced with it. The situation becomes personal when Joe realizes his foster daughter has been abducted, and is likely being held at the camp, directly in the line of fire as federal and local law enforcement converge for an attack. Think Waco and Ruby Ridge. C.J. Box draws a vivid picture of the West and its people, but his true strength lies in his portrayal of nature, the wildlife of the mountains, the independ-minded people, and the dangerous beauty of the impending storm. He reminded me a great deal of another writer who has made the setting a character in his novels: Paul Doiron, who writes about Maine and also has a main character who is a game warden. (See earlier post called Capturing the Male Reader for a review of Doiron’s Bad Little Falls.) In Winterkill, Box explores the theme of protection as the character struggles with his guilt over not being able to protect his daughter. His sense of leaving her exposed to danger is symbolized by the trees exposed, resulting in winterkill, when the storm hits. The plot, albeit a tad contrived at times, has enough twists to keep a reader engaged and the characters are well drawn, with the exception of perhaps the villianess. The over-the-top strangeness and cold-heartedness of Melinda Strickland was a bit unbelievable more often than not, but she made a satisfactory “love to hate her” bad gal. Overall, a satisfying read and apropos on the eve of the snow expected here in the next twenty-four hours. Certainly hope it is nothing like the blizzard in this novel.
In the mailbox today I found a wonderful surprise: a gift of a book, signed by the author, from a friend who had moved back home to Maine. It turns out I had discovered a great, new author whose specialty was writing mystery/thrillers which take place in Maine. I turned her on to the writer, and lo and behold, he was at a local book signing (and I was the lucky recipient). The gift book is one I have not read: “Bad Little Falls” by Paul Doiron. The beauty of Doiron’s writing is that he has the ability to create a sense of place to the point that the locale is nearly a character in itself, but he does not sentimentalize Maine. He can describe the beauty and awe that is Maine, but also the grit, and poverty, and cruelty of nature. My friend, Margaret, who went to hear the author speak, wrote me an interesting note about his readership: Doiron, who had just given a talk at a local high school (kudos for him doing that) is credited with getting more young men to read, because before they were just not seeing anyone like themselves in most literature. Writers who set their stories in Maine are often times seasonal visitors, who focus on the pretty, coastal areas. Doiron’s newly-won readers had no problem with his portrayal of the poorer, rougher side of the Down Easters. His stories all feature a main game warden, Mike Bowditch, who has had his share of troubles in life. I read an earlier work of Doiron’s, “The Poacher’s Son” which provided the background on this character’s dark upbringing. All that aside, the author is capable of spinning a good mystery, full of well-rounded characters and always an interesting setting. Looking forward to diving into “Bad Little Falls.”