This is the 11th book in Doiron’s crime series featuring former Maine game warden and now recently 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.’” A warden investigator, on the other hand, is “for all intents and purposes a plainclothes detective.”)
This book begins with Mike in Florida doing a background check on someone who had applied for a job with the Maine Warden Service. Investigating applicants to the service was one of his duties now; ultimately, he explained, “it was my responsibility to prevent an unfit candidate from acquiring a badge and gun.”
While in Florida, Mike contacted his former long-time girlfriend Stacey Stevens, daughter of his father-surrogate Charley, a retired warden pilot. Although Mike was now involved with Dani Tate, a former game warden who had transferred to the Maine State Police, he had promised Stacey if he were ever in the area he would look her up. Mike doesn’t quite trust his feelings around Stacey, but he accompanies her on a hunt for a Burmese python sighted in the Big Cypress National Preserve. In the process, Mike gets to compare the flora and fauna of Florida to that of Maine, allowing readers to do so as well.
Meanwhile, Mike got a call from Ora, Charley’s wife, telling him that Charley had disappeared. Mike rushed back home to see what he could find out; Charley was his hero as well as his surrogate father. He concluded that Charley was investigating a 15-year-old murder that had never been solved, and that he was in danger. Before long, Mike was investigating the murder also, so he could better follow Charley’s trail and find him.
In the process, what Mike found out about Charley taught him that “only small boys and fools worship other men. The point of life is to find heroism in yourself.”
Mike’s personal life was in flux as well. The encounter with Stacey showed Mike he had unresolved feelings about her. Making matters more complicated, Stacey, who came back to Maine when she found out her dad was missing, announced she was moving back. If Mike survived the quest to find Charley, he needed to figure out what and who he really wanted.
Evaluation: I love learning more about the biology of Maine from Doiron’s books, and this one has the bonus of teaching me about Florida biology as well. The crimes in his books are complicated, but hold your attention. I always look forward to more stories in the series.
Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, 2020