This is the ninth book in Doiron’s crime series featuring Maine former game warden and now newly promoted warden investigator Mike Bowditch. (In Maine, game wardens are full law-enforcement officers, with all the powers of state troopers: “They are the ‘off-road police.’” Warden investigators are “for all intents and purposes a plainclothes detective.”)
Mike has been a game warden for six years but a warden investigator for only four months when he is assigned his first hunting homicide. The woman killed, Ariel Evans, 37, was a famous journalist from Manhattan renting a house on the [fictional] island of Maquoit off the coast of Maine, possibly to work on another exposé. Her previous book had been a best-selling exposé of neo-Nazis, of which there were a few in Maquoit. She was shot, allegedy mistaken for a deer. But as Mike explains:
“. . . accident is not a term we use in the in the Maine Warden Service. Game wardens understand that even when guns misfire or bullets ricochet, when feet stumble or fingers slip, there is always a trail of causation you can follow that will lead you back to an act of culpable negligence.”
Maquoit is accessible only by boat or plane, so Mike is flown over to the island by his old friend, Charley Stevens (a retired patrol warden who still volunteered the use of his plane when the other planes in the warden Aviation Division were otherwise engaged). It is a bit awkward; Mike and Charley have been estranged since Mike’s relationship with Charley’s daughter Stacey ended back in the summer, after Stacey left to start a new life in Florida. Mike was perhaps more upset by the loss of his friendship with Charley than about the end of his relationship with Stacey: “Nothing on earth could have made me sadder. Charley Stevens was the closest thing I had ever had to a real father.”
Maquoit, with a population of eighty-nine people, is primarily a lobster fishing community. But as Charley points out:
“All these old fishing outposts are dying off as the groundfish disappear and the oceans warm up. Lobsters are moving north in the Gulf of Maine. Give it a few years and Maquoit will go dead in the offseason, too.”
[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website reported in 2016: “the lobster industry in New York and southern New England has nearly collapsed. . . . The story is much the same in Connecticut, where landings fell 96.6% from the most profitable year, and in Rhode Island, which saw a 70.3% drop from its most profitable year.” On the other hand, the story noted, “Maine’s lobster fishery has boomed. From 1994 to 2014, Maine’s landings surged 219% to more than 124 million pounds.” But of course, as Doiron points out, lobsters keep having to move ever northward. The New York Times recently observed that while, since the early 1980s, “climate change had warmed the Gulf of Maine’s cool waters to the ideal temperature for lobsters…,” now it is getting too warm: “’Climate change really helped us for the last 20 years,’” said Dave Cousens, who stepped down as president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in March. But, he added, “’Climate change is going to kill us, in probably the next 30.’”]
Doiron routinely fills readers in on many details about the flora and fauna of Maine, incorporating a lot of background on Maine seamlessly into his stories. In this book he has Mike observe:
“Lobsters are cannibals. Leave them together in a tank without rubber bands around their claws, and they will dismember and devour each other in short order. Drop a bunch of lobstermen together on an island – Maquoit, for instance, twenty miles off the Maine coast – and they begin to resemble the cold-blooded creatures they catch.”
He heard from the residents that violent feuds occurred between the lobstermen. In addition, drug use was high in Maine’s fishing communities.
To add to their troubles, the island was overrun by deer. As Stacey, a wildlife biologist, told Mike at one point, the prime carrying capacity for a place like the island would be ten deer per square mile. The current estimate for Maquoit, based on their most recent survey, was seventy deer per square mile. The deer on the island were starving, and most of them were infested with Lyme-disease-carrying ticks. But the islanders didn’t want to give them up or stop hunting them.
When Ariel was found dead, no one confessed to the shooting, but in spite of the small population on the island, there were plenty of suspects. None of the townspeople wanted to talk however. Mike was an outsider. Plus, he could leave; the rest had to stay there.
As Mike goes around questioning people, he uncovers more and more layers to the puzzle. Finally, as he gets too close to an answer, his own life is in danger.
Evaluation: I always love learning more about Maine from Doiron’s books. This one has more character development than suspense, as opposed to previous books, but with no less enjoyment for the reader. I always look forward to more stories in the series.
Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2018