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PITCH DARK by Paul Doiron: Book Review

When Game Warden Services Inspector Mike Bowditch receives a call from a rookie member of the Maine Warden Service, telling him there may be a man missing in the northern woods, he starts out on what will become the most dangerous search of his career.

Hammond Pratt has checked in at a lodge compound called Seboomook Farm and asked its owner about a father and daughter who were living somewhere nearby, offering a reward to anyone who could point him toward them.  A member of the lodge’s staff told him about a pair living in a very remote locality; they are there because the father, Mark Redmond, is building a cabin for Josie Jonson, Mike’s wife’s godmother, a helicopter pilot.  Now Pratt has been missing for two nights, and the situation seems unusual and possibly dangerous enough to investigate.

Mike and Charley Stevens, his father-in-law and mentor, drive north to Josie’s home in Jackson to ask her if she’ll fly them to Prentiss Pond to meet the reclusive carpenter, his daughter, and hopefully to find Hammond Pratt there as well.  Josie is brusque to the point of rudeness to Mike, but she agrees to take them there and put his half-formed fears to rest.

Josie acknowledges it’s odd that Redmond leaves his young teenage daughter in the cabin when he goes into town and doesn’t want any photos of the cabin posted on the web, but she says she’s met the girl and is convinced she’s fine and well taken care of by her father.  Before meeting the man, Mike’s initial feeling is that there’s something “off” about him, but in view of Josie’s opinion he begins to second-guess himself.  He’s wondering if he’s got the situation backwards, if Pratt is the problem and Redmond the caring father Josie has described.

Instead of his fears being allayed, however, when he meets Redmond and his daughter Cady they’re intensified by the man’s demeanor and almost obsessive need for privacy, going so far as to confiscate the phones Mike, Charley, and Josie are carrying to make certain they can’t take photos of himself, his daughter, or the cabin.  He asks his daughter to make coffee for their guests, and the next thing Mike knows he’s sitting on the forest floor with his arms tied to a tree, as are Charlie and Josie.  And in the few minutes Mike is trying to loosen his bonds, Josie convulses and dies and Redmond and Cady have disappeared.

Mike and Charley manage to free themselves, and Mike sets off to find the father and daughter.  Although he’s ill-equipped, as Redmond has taken his cell phone and gun, Mike scrounges enough tools to believe he will capture them, given his expertise and knowledge of the woods.  Charlie, however, warns him against overconfidence.  “This man is better than you are in the woods, and if you forget that for a minute, he’s going to kill you.”

“I couldn’t remember Charley Stevens ever looking so afraid,” Mike thinks.

Pitch Dark is a thriller with twists and turns the reader won’t anticipate.  It’s always a pleasure to read about Mike Bowditch, and this book gives readers a deeper insight into what has made him the man he has become.  This novel is an outstanding addition to the series.

Paul Doiron is a Registered Maine Guide and the recipient of the Barry Award for best first novel.  You can read more about him at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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