A woman is reported shot by a deer hunter on a small island 20 miles windward of Mount Desert Island. Mike Bowditch is dispatched by plane, the only Maine Game Warden Service investigator available. He is also the newest, having been promoted after six years as a warden. The Warden Service has jurisdiction when a hunter kills someone, which they classify not as an accident, but “murder.” Bowditch flies out with a seasoned Maine State Patrol detective just in case the “murder” turns out to be a statutory murder, which the State Patrol has jurisdiction over. They’ve been advised the hunter has already admitted guilt. Open-and-shut case, they think. Put the guy in the plane and fly back.

Paul Doiron fans don’t expect things to be so simple. And they aren’t in “Stay Hidden,” Doiron’s ninth book in his Mike Bowditch mystery series. The novel is the most complex, densely plotted Doiron novel yet. Bowditch suspects from the start that the shooting is more than it seems. Many islanders are entangled in the thick of it, more than a handful with motive and opportunity to be considered the killer – alibis aside. The trooper flies out, leaving Bowditch to his work, but not before telling him he doesn’t think the novice investigator is up to the job. Bowditch is stung, but worries that the insult may prove merited. “I had wanted so desperately to become a warden investigator,” Bowditch reflects, “but now I couldn’t pass a mirror without seeing an imposter.” A thick fog starts to settle in, threatening to close the world out.

Bowditch faces many challenges, not the least of which is that nobody on the island is forthcoming with any useful information. Partly, it’s an inbred distrust of all non-natives, especially anyone wearing a badge. Compounding this is that islanders don’t trust one another either – and with good reason. Feuding fisherman have sunk lobster boats, shot and wounded one another and lethally trafficked heroin on the island, casting a pallor of bitterness. Then there’s the knot of love triangles, and the grievances between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, neighbor and neighbor. Because Ariel Evans, the woman shot, was an outsider and distinguished herself a troublemaker in just the two months she was on the island, no one is especially grieved by her death. That she was also a fearless investigative reporter famous for infiltrating a clan of Nazis naturally made islanders suspicious: Why had she come to their island?

A ferry slips in, making one last voyage to the island before the fog clamps the lid on access. When Ariel Evans’s doppelgänger steps ashore, things get really complicated.

“‘What’s going on here?'” the woman asks Bowditch when he approaches her. “‘How do all these people know who I am? … And why do they seem so freaked out?'”

Doiron displays his signature talents as a writer in “Stay Hidden.” The characters are engrossing, and the settings so well drawn that the landscape becomes a character, too. As the plot thickens, tensions and surprises reverberate like shotgun blasts.

Doiron lays out challenges aplenty for Bowditch to sort out. The author also sets up several for himself. To begin with, Bowditch is solo, near totally isolated with no sympathetic supporting characters to enrich the subtext of his personal affairs. Then, there’s the fact that the setting is as tight as a prison, providing little room for Bowditch’s wide ramblings in earlier stories as a warden. The cast of characters rivals that in a Russian saga, so readers may struggle to keep everybody – and their feuds – straight.

“Stay Hidden” is fun like a funhouse as distortions abound – though none are funny, and some are deadly. I wish, however, that Bowditch had been cast as rising above earlier traits that marked his journey as a warden. I wish he hadn’t wrecked so many vehicles and boats, and had a bit more self-confidence. He’s earned it. But those are quibbles.

Bowditch remains a great character. “Stay Hidden” is an absorbing tale. And the Doiron succeeds again at what has long made the Bowditch series addictive; namely he plants seeds and invites speculations about where the tale might twist in the next installment. Bowditch’s love interest in several earlier novels, Stacey Stevens, has abandoned him – or maybe not. Danielle “Dani” Tate, a former game warden and colleague, now a state trooper, who long has had a crush on him, seems to be back in the picture.

Even given the contractual rigors of producing a book every twelve months, a year is still a terribly long wait for the next chapter in the Bowditch saga.

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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