Thursday, December 5, 2013
By LLOYD FERRISS
For one of the 10 least populated states, Maine has a surprising number of nationally known writers: Tess Gerritsen, Monica Wood and the ever-productive Stephen King among them.
"THE POACHER'S SON." Paul Doiron. Minotaur Books. 336 pages. $24.99.
Paul Doiron may soon join that impressive field with his first novel, "The Poacher's Son."
It's the story of a young Maine game warden trying to save his brawling, hard-drinking father who's accused of murdering two men. Fast-paced and believable, Doiron's book explores the murky depths of a father-son relationship played out in northern Maine's vanishing wilderness.
"The Poacher's Son" is refreshingly different. Written in the first person, the novel is narrated by its main character, persistent game warden Mike Bowditch. He's an argumentative man stubborn enough to drive off his wife and try the patience of his warden supervisor, Kathy Frost. At the same time, readers know from the author's wonderfully stitched-together flashbacks that Mike's shortcomings come from a rough childhood spent in part with his angry, law-breaking father.
Instantly mesmerized, I was convinced (before encountering some unfamiliar place names) that the book was a nonfiction memoir of a Maine game warden with a most unusual life. It was that convincing.
A master of description, Doiron shines even in depicting minor characters. Early in the novel, for instance, he zeroes in on the Square Deal Diner "owned by a plump and hyperactive widow named Dot Libby who also ran a motel and gift shop out on the highway, served as chair of the school board, organized the municipal Fourth of July picnic, and played the organ every Sunday morning at the Congregational Church."
Readers learn in the same passage that Dot's husband died a few years earlier; the townsfolk are convinced that he wore himself out trying to keep up with Dot. "She kept a photo of him on the wall of the diner," Doiron writes, "where he continued to stare down at her with sad, hound-dog eyes."
Action ratchets up in the novel when a sheriff's deputy and a spokesman for Wendigo Timberlands are gunned down after leaving the Dead River Inn. Windigo is a development-oriented paper company that's purchased a vast chunk of pristine landscape, where it intends to build luxury homes for the wealthy.
Local residents, some with lifetime leases on camp lots in the forest, are irate. But law enforcement officers investigating the murders focus their suspicion on Jack Bowditch, Mike's occasionally violent father. A manhunt begins when Jack escapes to the woods.
In wonderful little vignettes, readers get to know Jack, a man you wouldn't want to meet in a bar. When he was young and married, Jack was a semi-sociable person. But when his wife divorced him and his parents died, writes Doiron, "his drinking got worse and his impatience with the failings of other human beings hardened into something like contempt. Now he tended to live as far from people as possible, wherever the trees grew thick."
Mike the game warden knows his dad's temperament, but is convinced by the facts of the case and his own gut feeling that he's innocent. So he sets off to find Jack and clear his name.
In one passage, Warden Bowditch pictures the shooter as a man who "hoped to scare off Wendigo Timber by making a statement in blood."
But, as Bowditch sees it, man killing isn't his dad's specialty.
"He was a bar brawler," Mike concludes, "not a terrorist."
Then the action really ratchets up.
Doiron is a Maine native and registered Maine Guide, as well as editor-in-chief of Down East Magazine. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in English, and holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. He lives on the Maine coast with his wife, Kristen Lindquist.
"The Poacher's Son" is a mystery in that it deals with murder and has a twisty plot leading to an unexpected end. But Doiron's book offers more than one finds in a typical mystery. The author's examination of traits passed from father to son is grist for thought, and his depiction of characters nothing less than terrific. You'll like this fine novel.
Lloyd Ferriss is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.