To the list of June treats that Mainers have become accustomed to — alongside the first s’mores of the year and the first tolerably warm dip in the lake — add this: Paul Doiron’s annual installment in the Mike Bowditch thriller series.
This year’s novel, “Knife Creek,” is the eighth in the series. Doiron will celebrate its launch at a 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 13, launch party at Left Bank Books in Belfast.
Doiron, who lives in the midcoast area and worked as the editor in chief at Down East magazine before becoming a full-time novelist, said the June releases are fun but hide the brutal truth of such an ambitious publishing schedule.
“What you don’t see is the weeks of desperation in the fall, as I’m struggling to complete the book for the next spring,” he said with a laugh. “Having a contract that requires me to complete a book a year is fantastic discipline, especially when I know I won’t be paid until I turn the book in. But the truth is, once I start writing, and once I discover the story that I want to tell, everything does move very smoothly for me.”
The key to that smooth progression, he said, is formulating a good plan.
“The real challenge always is deciding at the beginning of the process, what part of Maine do I want to write about?” he said. “What season is it? And what is going on in Mike Bowditch’s personal and professional life that will, hopefully, elevate the novel beyond just a simple page-turner.”
The Bowditch thrillers focus on Bowditch, a Maine game warden, as he roams the Maine woods, solves crimes and (hopefully) answers questions about himself. Doiron has always called Bowditch a work-in-progress, and the series has tracked that halting progress as the main character takes two steps forward, then one back — often finding himself in challenging situations that he has caused.
In “Knife Creek,” Doiron takes the readers to the Saco River in western Maine, where thousands of partying paddlers visit each summer to float downstream. Doiron packs intrigue into that festive setting, when Bowditch finds an infant’s body buried in a shallow grave. Who was the child? Who was its mother? And does the case have anything to do with a female paddler who went missing years earlier?
Those are the questions Doiron tackles in what is likely his darkest Bowditch thriller yet. The writer said his trip into some old-fashioned, gruesome thriller fare was intentional, though it doesn’t quite follow the blueprint longtime readers have come to expect from him.
“In general, I think my books are not conventional thrillers. I don’t sit down and try to write a book that moves at 100 miles an hour from page one until the end,” he said. “Instead, I try to create suspense through other means, and I have other goals, as well, for the books: the character development of Mike and the people around him, bringing to life the setting and making it an intrinsic part of the story.”
“Knife Creek” adheres to the Doiron model in those regards, but it is amped up a notch or two. And that’s what he was aiming for.
“I’ve gotten the sense from some critics who don’t understand what I’m doing that I’m trying to write a conventional thriller and failing,” Doiron said. “There was a little bit [of that] in my motivation: You want a thriller? I’ll give you a thriller.”
That he does.
The typical Doiron sensibilities are still in place, with attention given to the setting, allowing the reader to gain a real sense of place; the sucking mud on the river bottom is tangible, and the Saco River itself comes to life through Doiron’s description. And his characters are well-rounded and imperfect, showing their vulnerabilities in ways that help define them. Bowditch is still the hero, but still has plenty of room for improvement. An assortment of other colorful characters crop up, as always, making the identification of the villains — if there are any — a good challenge.
When Doiron began the series, he said he planned to set each of 12 novels during a single month in the Maine woods. With this, his eighth, completed, that leaves the writer with just four more months to tackle: November, December, April and June.
Pressed for a far-in-advance preview of next June’s gift to his readers, Doiron offers a couple of hints.
“I’ll tell you right now, I’m writing the November book — finally. You would think, in a series about game wardens, that’s one of their busiest months, and I’m finally willing to tackle it,” Doiron said. “And the only thing I’ll tell you [about the book itself], because I don’t want to give away where Mike ends up, is that it takes place on one of Maine’s offshore islands, one of the ones that is dealing with a deer overpopulation problem.”
Well, there is one other thing he’ll share.
“And, needless to say, somebody gets killed,” Doiron said with a chuckle.