Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review: "The Poacher's Son" by Paul Doiron

Ah, family dynamics. You sometimes don't realize what an effect your childhood or your relationship with your parents, siblings, or other relatives will have on you until later in life. And other times these relationships define your entire existence.

Mike Bowditch is a game warden in Maine. His father, Jack, is a hard-drinking, often unemployed womanizer who poaches illegal game from the wilderness. Mike never seemed to get his father's approval—or even his interest—throughout his childhood, and once his parents' marriage ended and his mother moved away with Mike in tow, his relationship with his father was tenuous at best. Mike's decision to become a game warden was made in part because of a need to pay society back for his father's actions, a decision that also led to the dissolution of his relationship with his longtime girlfriend.

One night after responding to a resident's call for help, he finds an answering machine message from his father, which is surprising, since they haven't spoken in nearly two years. The message is cryptic, but it grows in importance when the next morning Mike learns that a local policeman and a lawyer representing a timber company were both murdered, and Jack is the primary suspect. Plus, Jack escaped from police and is on the run.

Mike believes that while his father has been proven to have a violent temper, there's no way he could have killed the men. But he's nearly the only one that feels that way, and as Mike tries to gather some facts and understand what happened, he begins to jeopardize his own career and his relationships with colleagues and loved ones. Determined to find out the truth, despite being warned against it, he joins forces with a retired warden (and one-time nemesis of his father) and begins searching for his father. And then he meets a woman who claims to be his father's girlfriend, who insists she knows what happened.

The Poacher's Son, Paul Doiron's first book in a series featuring Mike Bowditch, is a compelling and well-written mystery/thriller that is a bit weightier than typical books in this genre because of the emotional back story. Doiron, who is editor of the magazine Down East, has a terrific knack for creating an evocative setting—his descriptions of the isolated, wild, and beautiful places on Maine's coast and in the woods were tremendously vivid and set an appropriate mood for the book.

Doiron created the appropriate amount of tension in his story, and while not all of the characters are sympathetic, many are well-drawn and complex, although a few tend to hew closer to stereotypes. There were a number of times when I expected the action to go one way and I was surprised, which is always a good thing when reading mysteries like these. The truth is, however, I actually liked the story of Mike and Jack's relationship, and its impact on other aspects of their lives, almost more than the mystery itself. But I'm still interested in reading the two other books in this series to see how Doiron moves Mike's character forward.

If you enjoy mysteries with a great sense of place, this is one for you.

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