I was very happy to see Paul Doiron had written another book in the Mike Bowditch series about a Maine game warden. (In Maine, game wardens are full law-enforcement officers, with all the powers of state troopers: “They are the ‘off-road police.’”)
Mike, 27, was a game warden for three years, but he recently resigned to become a fishing guide in the rugged outland Down East. (In Maine, “Down East” refers to the coast of the U.S. state of Maine from Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border.) Mike had worked in the midcoast of Maine (between Portland and Acadia National Park) but had been transferred Down East because of a number of acts of insubordination. He got tired, as he said, of being resented and criticized, so he decided to change careers.
Two months into his new position, he heard that his former supervisor, friend, defender, and mentor, Sergeant Kathy Frost, had been suspended and was the target of an official inquiry and public outrage after having been forced to kill a suicidal Afghan war veteran. Mike goes down to see her and offer support, and finds himself in the middle of a lethal attack on Kathy by a sniper. Mike is injured, but Kathy may be dead; she is in a coma and no one knows if she will recover.
Mike, as usual, can’t keep himself out of the investigation. He knows a lot of the wardens and police consider him an “arrogant asshole,” but he thinks that if that epithet means he trusts his own intelligence over the collective wisdom of the state police, then he will plead guilty to that description. In addition, he feels obliged to help take care of Kathy’s older brother Kurt, a Vietnam vet with a serious drinking problem. In a nice meta touch (meta in terms of the challenge of creating nuanced characterization), Mike tries to figure out just who Kurt is:
“Every time I thought I’d gotten a handle on who Kurt Eklund was, he’d do or say something to slip from my grasp. He was a miserable mess of a person who deserved understanding or, at least, compassion. No, he was a cruel and manipulative asshole with no regard for others.”
Mike saves some lives, threatens a lot more, and of course, solves the crime. It causes him to rethink leaving the profession, and gets the other wardens to rethink their negative assessment of him.
Discussion: Doiron is a good writer, the former editor of Down East Magazine, and a Registered Maine Guide. He clearly loves his state, and will have you ordering travel literature from the Maine Visitors Bureau!
This series is not without romantic elements, but they were not really of much interest to me. (And in any event, Doiron is much better at limning male characters than females.) Mike’s love affair with Maine is much more compelling, in my opinion.
The title is not really all that descriptive, except in a metaphorical sense.
Evaluation: This is a good detective series with excellent background information on Maine and on what it means to work as a warden there. It is not necessary to have read the previous books, but as with any series, the story is more meaningful if you start it from the beginning.
Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2014