THE POACHER’S SON, by Paul Doiron, 2010, Minotaur Books, New York, 324 pages, hardcover, $24.99.
Maine game wardens have quietly worked in obscurity for decades. Well, no more.
In his new mystery series, Paul Doiron, editor of Down East magazine, is shining a bright light on what the men and women who enforce the law in some of the Pine Tree State’s most remote places do, how they do it and the people they encounter along the way.
The character Doiron created through whom to tell his stories is a 24-year-old rookie warden, Mike Bowditch. His father always has resided deep in the woods, living hand-to-mouth, working just enough to keep himself in whiskey and beer and, on occasion, meat by hunting out of season.
Bowditch’s mother left the man and took the boy to Portland when he was 9 years old, but, like the father, the son longed for the solitude and closeness of the forest. In a less violent way, Bowditch has pushed away the woman who loves him as his father did his mother. As “The Poacher’s Son” opens, Bowditch has been living alone for 55 days.
“And I missed her,” Doiron writes, “and counted the days since she’d gone away. But I was
relieved, too. Relieved that I no longer had to justify my emotions to anyone else. I could spend the night alone in the woods searching for a dead pig and be content in a way that made absolutely no sense to anyone who wasn’t a game warden. With Sarah gone, I could live this solitary and morbid profession without excuses and not have to look too deeply into the dark night of myself.”
By making the elder Bowditch a suspect in a double homicide, Doiron forces the young warden to examine his childhood in the harsh light of day and face the reality of who his father really is, not who he has imagined him to be. Warden Bowditch sets out to prove his father is not responsible for the shooting deaths of a Somerset County deputy and a developer from a timber company that plans to evict leaseholders, including Bowditch’s old man.
It is not the rather predictable plot that makes Doiron’s writing so engaging. It is his descriptions of the Maine rarely advertised by the state Department of Tourism or showcased in the glossy pages of Down East that captivates the reader. Doiron could do for Maine what the late Tony Hillerman did for the Southwest in his mysteries featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.
“I pushed my way into the forest,” Doiron writes in the opening chapter. “Beaded rainwater spilled off the leaves onto my shoulders and face. I was drenched in an instant. After a few steps, I was through the green wall of bushes and saplings at the edge of the wood. Beneath the trees the air was still and heavy with the smell of growing things — as humid as a hothouse.”
Doiron has a contract to write two more Bowditch novels, but has said he’d like to write a dozen. That could take his character into retirement. Residents of the Pine Tree State, however, will not buy Doiron’s book to see what happens to the game warden; they will snatch up these mysteries because the author takes readers into “the real Maine” from their armchairs.
For information about the author, visit www.pauldoiron.com.