Outdoors in Maine: Outdoors novel a real page turner

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Paul Doiron, the editor-in-chief of Down East Magazine and Down East Books, has written his first novel, “The Poacher’s Son,” published by Minotaur Books. The book, which is set in the Maine outdoors, has been getting some good reviews from state outdoor writers, and deservedly so.

Doiron’s central character is Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch. The rookie game warden comes from a broken family. His no-good father — a hard drinking womanizer and poacher — becomes a murder suspect after an unpopular timberland owner is gunned down in cold blood one dark night A deputy sheriff is also killed at the same time. As the suspense, builds we learn that Bowditch’s father is not the only a member of the community with a motive for the murder, he is known to be prone to violence. He becomes the prime suspect.

The young game warden refuses to believe that his father, despite his bad reputation, could be capable of premeditated killing. The mystery deepens. Bowditch’s supervisor takes him off the case because of a conflict of interest. Convinced of his father’s innocence, Bowditch risks his job as he pursues leads on his own and uses his law enforcement contacts covertly to track down the “real” killer. To make matters worse, the game warden is estranged from his girlfriend, Sarah.

Doiron has done a masterful job developing his main character, Mike Bowditch. The young warden has his flaws like the rest of us. He is too headstrong at times, and his choices aren’t always the most mature. But you’ll come to like him early on in the book, and the tougher things get for him with his job, his girl, and his mission to prove his father’s innocence, the more you will want him to get a break.

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This book has a lot more going for it than merely the tension that all good mystery novels generate. And, indeed, it has a lot of tension. Doiron is a “clean writer” who weaves his tale with pace and precision. He also creates a sense of place that is truly Maine, the good, the bad and the ugly — the odd mixture of natural beauty, the rural poverty, and the family dysfunction.

Himself a Registered Maine Guide, Doiron has done his homework when it comes to his fictional portrayal of game warden work. Having worked closely with the Maine Warden Service for three years, I recognized Warden Bowditch’s supervisor from real life and some of the other law enforcement characters in his story, despite their fictional names. Doiron uses his knowledge of Game Warden work and Maine outdoor places to give his story a compelling added dimension. These work effectively with the basic plot line to create lots of plausibility.

There is a scene in the book that is wonderfully crafted, and has nothing to do with the main plot. On routine patrol, Warden Bowditch has an unpleasant encounter with a big-mouth Massachusetts boater, who is being summonsed for lack of PFDs in his boat. Bowditch takes a lot of flak. It is illustrative of what Game Wardens sometimes must put up with in the line of duty. Here’s a sample:

“I tore off the summons and handed it to him, and he crumpled it into his fist. For an instant I thought he might toss the paper into the pond, but instead he shoved it deep into his pocket.”

“You’re going to have to find another PFD before I can let you onto the water,” I said.

“You’re #@$% kidding.”

“No sir. And I asked you to watch your language.”

We stared at each other a long moment, his eyes looking redder and redder, and then he snapped his head around to face the boy. “Get out of the boat. Ranger Rick says we can’t go fishing.” DeSalle swung back a round on me.”Thanks for ruining my kid’s day.”

“Don’t push your luck, sir.”

I expected him to have a smart-mouthed answer for that, but he instead just strode off toward the parked SUV.

Hopefully, Mr. Doiron has another novel in the works. The Poacher’s Son, Minotaur Books, $24.99.

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The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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