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As summer beach reads go, Paul Doiron’s latest novel — the 10th in the Mike Bowditch series of mysteries — has one key flaw.
It’s so action-packed and compelling, readers may not get to take it to the beach more than once, opting to finish “Almost Midnight” in a single, frenetic session instead.
This, all things considered, is a pretty good “problem” to have if you’re a writer.
The book, which goes on sale July 2, takes readers to western Maine and reintroduces them to two of Doiron’s most popular characters from past books.
“In the course of writing the series I have created a lot of characters who are popular with my readers and left a lot of loose threads dangling,” Doiron said. “‘Almost Midnight’ is my attempt to bring back two of my wilder creations and tie their stories together. One is Billy Cronk, the big-hearted yet dangerous war veteran who is in prison for manslaughter because of Mike’s testimony. And the second is Shadow, a high-content wolf dog — meaning he’s mostly wolf — who has been on the run in the Rangeley region since ‘Widowmaker.’”
The protagonist in the series is Mike Bowditch, a Maine game warden who has sometimes been his own worst enemy, letting his temper and impetuous nature get the best of him. In “Almost Midnight” Bowditch receives a call from Cronk, who asks his friend to investigate a female prison guard. Before long, violence ensues, bodies start piling up, and Bowditch, now a warden investigator, tries to get to the bottom of things.
Add in the wounding — by arrow — of Shadow the wolf-dog, and there are plenty of whodunnits vying for Bowditch’s attention.
“Billy and Shadow’s stories seem separate at first, until they begin to connect like two strands of a rope and by the end everything is taut and pulled as tight as I can pull it,” Doiron said.
Slowly, inexorably, Doiron has helped his main character progress over the course of 10 books. In the beginning, Bowditch was little more than a full-grown child. Now, he’s showing maturity and is easier to root for.
“I think he’s nearly a bona fide adult. ‘Almost Midnight’ shows Mike at his most selfless,” Doiron said. “While Billy Cronk has been in prison, Mike has been caring for his wife Aimee — one of my favorite characters because she’s uneducated in the traditional sense and yet smarter than everyone else — and their five kids, the Cronklets.”
And Bowditch also takes a big step forward in his personal life.
“Mike also realizes that he needs to commit to someone,” Doiron said. “He can’t be a lone wolf anymore, although who he ends up committing to will surprise a lot of readers.”
Once again, Doiron paints a picture of a Maine that Mainers will recognize. The hardscrabble town of Pennacook, for instance, doesn’t exist on any real maps, but it will feel authentic to those who’ve grown up in similar places with similar histories.
“For a long time, I have wanted to feature a mill town that has lost its mill. It’s such a sad reality for so many Maine communities,” Doiron said. “My Pennacook is fictional, but it’s on the Androscoggin and vaguely adjacent to Dixfield, Mexico and Rumford. The upper Sandy River Valley interested me because it’s an area so many people zip through and yet it has a rich history as one of the epicenters of the Back to the Land movement. I decided to give the valley a fictional Amish community because it seemed fitting and because Maine is the fastest growing state for Amish people in the northern U.S.”
After the Bowditch series got rolling, Doiron said he planned to set each book in a different month, which gives readers a good look at the various conditions that Mainers can face. With book number 11 under way, he’s running out of months. That doesn’t mean that he’s running out of Bowditch stories, though.
“I have a contract for a 13th book [after the next two are written] so I’ll either need to create a new month or adjust my strategy,” he said. “But I won’t abandon the series because I have run out of months.”
And while the release of “Almost Midnight” is still pending, Doiron was willing to give a little hint about what readers can expect in next summer’s beach read.
“It’s past time that Mike visited the St. John Valley, which is a wonderful and culturally distinct part of the state, in addition to being a borderland with Canada,” said Doiron, who spent time last week in that part of Maine, fishing and doing research. “But the hook of the new novel is that Charley Stevens has disappeared — his past comes back to haunt him, regarding a game warden who died 15 years earlier — and Mike is on a mission to find his old friend.”