Friday, June 04, 2010

Maine Crime Fiction: Paul Doiron, THE POACHER'S SON

Mike Bowditch is a good game warden -- and a bitter disappointment to his father Jack, whose scratched-together forest-based life in the Maine North Woods never amounted to much, often included some out-of-season hunting (yes, that's poaching), and always stood in opposition to the forces of law. Especially the wardens.

So when it looks like Jack's violent ways have erupted in killing Deputy Bill Brodeur, a county police officer whom Mike knows and respects, everyone accepts Jack's guilt at first, even Mike. Yet there are some pieces that don't fit. Most powerfully of all, Mike's father, after all these years, asks his grown son for help. The policeman's slaying is secondary to another death, that of a corporate rep whose company is about to unseat all the hardscrabble woodsmen: That landscape of loggers and hunters will be worth a lot more when it's scheduled for some kinds of development. Squatters and casual lease-holders won't be allowed to stay in place. No wonder Mike's dad would have resented the company.

But Mike quickly finds others with far more significant motives than his father's. And his father's girlfriend says Jack is innocent of this crime.

Paul Doiron is writing what he knows in THE POACHER'S SON: A Maine native and editor of the state's established publication Down East: A Magazine of Maine, Doiron is also a Registered Maine Guide. Whether it's gutting a deer, being eaten by black flies in the summer woods, or chasing down a bear that's become dependent on suburban handouts, Doiron nails the details.
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. I made an arc with the bull's-eyed flashlight beam along the forest floor, looking for drag marks. But the soft carpet of moss and pine needles had absorbed all traces of the bear's passing, and I saw no more blood drops.

I found the pig a hundred yards in.

It lay on its side in a puddle of congealing blood. Its throat had been torn out, and its haunches had been chewed into a red pulp. The bear had not attempted to bury the carcass or cover it with leaves. It was possible it had heard me coming.
He also proves to have a tight sense of plot and twists, so that this novel can hardly be set down while Mike is still chasing his father and the truth.
My greatest fear was that the searchers would corner my father in the woods and there would be a standoff ending in gunfire. In a few hours the case might be closed forever and I would live the rest of my life knowing I did nothing to save him.
Even more significantly, Doiron carves out what a father-son relationship can look and feel like at its worst and at its best. For Mike Bowditch, dealing with the brutality of his father Jack's life becomes even darker when contrasted with what retired warden Charley Stevens offers -- if Mike can manage to see Charley straight, considering that this is the same warden who despised his father way back when.

There's evil in here, and there's violence, as well as betrayal. But THE POACHER'S SON also offers a realistic glimpse of what goodness and strength can turn out to be. And it's a compelling read, well written, tautly paced, and making every page count.

Paul Doiron's author tour so far includes only stops in Maine. If you go to meet him, let him know the rest of northern New England -- and other places that offer conflict between rural life and oncoming change -- could use a visit from this author, too.

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