This is the eighth book in Doiron’s crime series featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. (In Maine, game wardens are full law-enforcement officers, with all the powers of state troopers: “They are the ‘off-road police.’”)
Mike is now 29, has been a game warden for six years, and has been dating Stacy Stevens for two years. Currently they are living together. Stacy is a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, but her job, along with those of many other field biologists, is in jeopardy because of tax cuts. Stacy is thinking they should leave Maine, but Mike has applied for a promotion to warden investigator (i.e., a detective) and he loves Maine too much to want to leave.
Stacy, disaffected from her workplace, skips out to help Mike hunt feral swine near the Saco River. [In real life the swine are invading New Hampshire but not yet Maine.] They come upon the body of an infant not long dead. Further, it appears the body was left there on purpose so that the pigs would eat the evidence. It is so hard to imagine anyone would do such a thing, that it almost goes undetected. As Mike observes ruefully, “Good men, charged with protecting the public from harm, [have] been unable to bring themselves to believe that monsters walk among us in human form. . . . . the persistence of evil in the world is often made possible by failures of imagination.”
DNA connects the body to a girl, Casey Donaldson, who disappeared four years earlier and was presumed dead. As Mike starts asking questions, it seems like everyone in the area is keeping secrets, and more deaths follow. Mike becomes convinced Casey is still alive but was not complicit; rather she was being held captive [although I never quite understood how he came to that conclusion]. He is determined to find her, in spite of discouragement from the state troopers and resistance of the locals. Suspense builds into a terrifying denouement.
Evaluation: I like the series a lot for its vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna of Maine, and the detailed information on the Maine Warden Service. Both are central to a state characterized by a heavily forested interior, many waterways and inland fisheries, a plethora of wildlife resources, and the prominence of recreational outdoor sports. Doiron always manages to incorporate a lot of background on Maine into his stories. This one in particular has a great build-up of suspense.
Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2017