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THE POACHER’S SON by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Maine is only two states north of where I live, but there are parts of it that seem in a different world.  The Poacher’s Son, by Paul Doiron, takes us into the northernmost section of the Pine Tree State, far from the busy, tourist-visited city of Portland.  Mike Bowditch has lived in Maine north and south, but his heart (and his career) are in Down East’s dark woods.

Bowditch is twenty four, new to his job as a member of the Maine Warden Service. As he explains it, he’s not a forest ranger but a policeman whose duties are to enforce laws relating to game and fisheries.  He carries a gun and is a graduate of Colby College, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and the Advanced Warden Academy.  In the winter he investigates snowmobiling accidents, ice fishing, and hunting with hounds; in the summer it’s boating infractions, secret marijuana gardens, and poaching.  Actually, it’s poaching all year round, and he’s very familiar with poachers, as the title tells us.

Bowditch’s parents divorced when he was nine, and he saw his father only infrequently after that.  Jack Bowditch is a poacher, a heavy drinker, and a barroom brawler.  Father and son hadn’t spoken in two years when Mike comes home to a call on his answering machine.  It’s from his father, but there’s no message, no phone number at which to reach him.  So Mike doesn’t know what his father wants, but he’s pretty sure it’ll bring him trouble.  And he’s right.

The next morning Mike reads about a killing in the North Woods:  a policeman and a real estate developer were shot to death.  And later that day the man who owns the camp where Jack Bowditch worked calls to say, “They arrested him, Mike.  I don’t know how else to say it.”  The senior Bowditch was in trouble again.

Jack Bowditch makes it worse, of course, by fighting with the cop who comes to talk to him about the shootings.  The policeman places him under arrest, but somehow during their ride to jail Bowditch overpowers him and escapes.  Now there’s a state-wide manhunt for Bowditch–he’s wanted for resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, and the two shootings.  Mike holds no brief for his father, but he refuses to believe that he’s a killer.

Doiron gives the reader an incredible sense of place in this novel, and his love for his state comes through.  He takes you up almost to the Canadian border and then down to Scarborough, a suburb of Portland where my older son’s family happens to live.  Doiron himself has had an interesting career path:  he’s a native of Maine, a graduate of Yale University, has an MFA from Emerson College, is a Registered Maine Guide, and is the editor-in-chief of Down East:  The Magazine of Maine.  This is the first novel of what obviously is planned to be a series, and Doiron is off to an excellent start.

You can read more about Paul Doiron at his web site.

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