Paul Doiron’s “Knife Creek” is the best yet in his impressive Mike Bowditch Mystery series. It’s taut, disturbing and consummately told.

The book opens with a horrific scene: Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch and his girlfriend, Stacey Stevens, a biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, are out in the woods hunting feral hogs. Two sows and a boar are shot, but not before Stevens is gashed in the leg by a boar’s tusk. Half a dozen piglets scatter. Amidst the slaughter, they find the partial remains of a newborn baby that one of the sows was feasting on.

The scene is soon swarming with law enforcement, including local police and Maine state troopers, among them Danielle “Dani” Tate, a former game warden and Bowditch’s colleague who was infatuated with him in an earlier book in the series. Among the scant evidence at the scene, Tate finds the initials “K.C.” incised in a beech tree by fingernail.

Bowditch is instructed by the state trooper in charge of the investigation to stay clear of getting involved. Forever curious and prone to skirt the commands of others, he is soon back in the woods, ostensibly looking for the piglets. He comes upon an isolated, derelict house, decides to check it out, and encounters two women in red wigs whose behavior and reluctance to engage with him raises suspicion. Their bizarre behavior prompts him to call Tate the next morning to ask her to meet him there. He is standing on the porch looking in the window of what is now an obviously abandoned house when Tate drives up. He realizes almost too late that the strange hissing he hears is propane escaping from the stove. He jumps and runs barely ahead of the blast that craters the structure.

Paul Doiron

Bowditch is still a maverick, but he has matured, gaining respect and even admiration from his superiors, who’ve encouraged him to put in for a promotion as an investigator. “Knife Creek” showcases Bowditch’s prowess as such, though he’s not yet gotten word on whether the new job is his. He’s the first to suspect that the baby’s death is a murder and that it is tied to a cold case of a young teenager girl who disappeared while rafting the Saco River four years before. He makes the case that the younger of the two red-wigged women was Casey Donaldson, the missing rafter. When Donaldson’s DNA from the previous case is matched with Baby Jane Doe’s, it generates shock waves among law enforcement personnel who were involved in the search for Donaldson. Bowditch’s assertions riles old suspicions, grudges, and conflicts that have simmered for years between many major players in the case.

“Knife Creek” is a gripping, well-plotted tale. His characters are vibrant and unforgettable, and the climatic scene is completely unexpected. Doiron has reached a new level in his craft, putting him, without a doubt, among the best crime writers working today.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction in 2014 by “Shelf Unbound,” an international review magazine. His novel was also a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver “in support of a literature of social change.” Smith can be reached via his website:

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