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ONE LAST LIE by Paul Doiron: Book Review

Charley Stevens is Mike Bowditch’s mentor/father figure/best friend all rolled into one.  So when Charley goes missing without explanation, Mike is determined to find him and discover the reason for his disappearance before it’s too late.

The two men have known each other for years, and Mike has always thought they could count on each other if either one was in a tight spot and needed help.  So it’s particularly upsetting when he receives a phone call from Ora, Charley’s wife, and she tells him that Charley has gone off without telling her where or why.  The only unusual thing that happened, she tells Mike, is that her husband seemed to have been upset after they had stopped at a flea market in Machias a few days earlier, not too far from their lakeside Maine home.

On his drive north from Portland to see Ora, Mike stops at the market to talk to a vendor he knows.  Carol Boyce had noticed Charley talking to an odd-looking man at a nearby table; the former English professor describes the stranger, in the words of  Edith Wharton, as “but a ruin of a man.”  The two had an angry exchange of words, and she thinks Charley walked away from the table with something small in his hand.  Perhaps, she says, it was the badge she had noticed him examining earlier among the items for sale.

Mike has two other concerns as well as his worry about his friend.  The first is the possibility that the Maine Warden Service, where Mike is a Warden Investigator and Charley had been one before his retirement, is going to hire someone who appears to be too good to be true.  Tom Wheelwright, a former Maine native and decorated combat pilot, is applying for the Service’s position of chief pilot.  Everything about him looks perfect on paper, but Bowditch nevertheless has the feeling that something isn’t right.

He persuades his superior officer to let him fly to Miami, where Wheelwright currently lives, to talk to Joe Fixico, Tom’s former electronic warfare officer and a man whose name was conspicuous by its absence among the many references in Wheelwright’s job application.  And going to Miami brings up the second concern for Mike–a possible meeting with his former lover Stacey, Charley and Ora’s daughter, now living in Florida.  Mike is now in a serious relationship with Dani, a member of the Maine State Police, but seeing his former “soul mate” creates a question in his mind about where his heart truly lies.

As in all the other books in this series, Paul Doiron’s love of nature, even when nature is not at its most appealing, shows his appreciation of the outdoors and the environment.  Whether he’s in the Everglades with Stacey looking for a loose Burmese python or back in his beloved Maine woods fighting clouds of mosquitoes and taking photos of a herd of moose, Mike is in his element, even if that element is uncomfortable or possibly dangerous.

One Last Lie is a welcome addition to the Mike Bowditch series.

Paul Doiron is chair of the Maine Humanities Council, former editor of Down East, and a Registered Maine Guide.  You can read more about him at this website.

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



ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There are the lies we tell to others (to impress, perhaps, or to make ourselves more important), and there are lies we tell to ourselves (to protect ourselves from acknowledging the truth of what we are doing or what our motivations are).  In Peter Swanson’s latest mystery, All The Beautiful Lies, there are both kinds of lies; it’s up to the reader to decide which is the more dangerous.

Harry Ackerson is a few days from his college graduation when he receives a call from his stepmother to say that his father is dead.  The night before, while walking on his favorite cliff path overlooking the ocean, Bill Ackerson apparently slipped and fell into the water below.

The initial police investigation quickly changes gears, however, when the autopsy reveals a bruise on Bill’s head; now it’s considered “a suspicious death.”  But who would want to kill this quiet man, owner of two rare book stores, married for several years to his second wife, and father to an only child?  Bill would seem to have had no enemies…but apparently he had at least one.

Nearly everyone in All The Beautiful Lies has a secret.  Alice, Bill’s widow, is the product of a very dysfunctional mother and an unknown father, two things she never told her late husband.  Her stepfather, Jake, was attracted to her before he married her mother, a woman he knew to be an alcoholic and sometimes drug abuser; after her mother’s death, Jake and Alice lived their lives closed to family and friends lest the true nature of their relationship be exposed.  Harry seems to be fearful of his sexuality, something he’s not ready to admit even to himself.  And who is the mysterious young woman Harry notices outside the used bookstore his father owned in their hometown, and why was she at the funeral, only to leave without speaking to anyone?

Peter Swanson is one of today’s best writers, regardless of the genre being discussed.  His characters are totally realistic in what they say, do, and think.  Their lies are what they have constructed to get through life–whether to hide what they dislike about themselves or to help them get what they want.  Either way, it’s a question as to whether they control the lies or whether those lies control them.

This is Peter Swanson’s fourth mystery and the fourth one I’ve reviewed.  He’s definitely one of the authors whose novels can never come quickly enough for me.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

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

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS by Maureen Milliken: Book Review

Newspaper reporter/editor Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea’s life has been chaotic since her move to Redimere, Maine.  In Cold Hard News, which takes place several months before this book begins, Bernie and the town’s new chief of police, Pete Novotny, were involved in a murder investigation and a struggle for their lives; it looks as if history is repeating itself.

No News is Bad News, the second book in this series, opens in 2009, but it has its true beginning several years earlier in Philadelphia.  At that time Pete was a detective searching for a missing teen, JP Donovan, the youngest child in a very dysfunctional family.  The police had had no luck in tracing JP over a two-year period, despite an almost obsessive investigation on Pete’s part.

Then, four years after JP’s disappearance, a boy is found in Redimere’s woods by a local police officer.  After he’s brought to the police station, the youth initially refuses to talk to anyone.  Finally he walks over to a wall covered with flyers of missing children, points to a photo of JP, and says, “That’s me.”

After Pete picks the teenager up in Redimere and drives him back to Philadelphia, the Donovans, mother and sister, welcome the boy with open arms and even have a huge party to celebrate his return.  So why does Pete feel as if the whole event is staged?  Would any mother say a boy was her son when he wasn’t?  Pete doesn’t understand it.  Even though Pete has left Philadelphia and moved to Redimere to head its police department, he hasn’t forgotten about the Donovan case.

At the same time, Bernie is struggling with a variety of issues.  She’s determined to keep the town’s weekly newspaper afloat, but at times it seems like an uphill battle.  She also wants to make sense of the unexpected appearance at her home of her youngest brother, Sal.  He tells her he’s been fired from his teaching job for plagiarism, something Bernie can hardly believe.  He’s invited himself to stay with Bernie until he figures out how to tell their extremely accomplished parents and siblings about his being fired and until he decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  Bernie is (mostly) happy to have his company, but she’s not certain Sal has told her the whole story.

And to add to the above mix, Bernie isn’t sure about her feelings for Pete.  He’s told her he loves her, but her response has been only silence.  She likes him, certainly, but is she ready for love?

Maureen Milliken has written a terrific mystery.  The fast-paced plot is totally believable, as are the characters, and the small-town setting works to help the reader understand life in a northern Maine town where everyone knows everyone else.  Bernie O’Dea is a heroine to watch.

You can read more about Maureen Milliken at this web site.

You can read the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


BITTER CROSSING by D. A. Keeley: Book Review

There must be something wonderful in the state of Maine to product such amazing mystery authors.  I’ve blogged about books written by Tess Gerritsen, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Paul Doiron, and Gerry Boyle, and now I’m adding D. A. Keeley to my list.

Bitter Crossing introduces Peyton Cote, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, recently back from her posting in Texas to her home state of Maine.  Although there is more action in El Paso than in tiny Garrett, it doesn’t take long after Peyton’s return for things to start happening in this part of Aroostook County, across from New Brunswick, Canada.  She receives a tip that a major shipment of marijuana is being dropped in an open area in the forest, and when she goes there she sees a bundle in the middle of the field.  But when she opens the package, there’s a baby girl inside, barely alive.

Peyton requested the transfer to her hometown mainly for personal reasons.  She wants her seven-year-old son to have more contact with his father, although she has doubts about Jeff’s commitment to Tommy.  Her ex is great at promises to Tommy, promises he rarely keeps.  Jeff would like to reconcile with Peyton, and she’s torn between wanting to have as little as possible to do with him and feeling that their son needs his father in his life.

Life isn’t easy in this northern part of Maine, and times are bad financially.  Years of hard work in the potato fields, once the mainstay of Aroostook County, can be gone in a flash when a blight decimates the harvest.  It’s no wonder that some members of Peyton’s generation look for easier ways to make money, including buying and selling drugs.

Peyton is using Kenny Radke, a former schoolmate, as a snitch.  Under a not-so-subtle threat of reporting to his parole officer that she found drugs in his car, she gets Kenny to tell her about the drug drop.  But now that there were no drugs found in the forest, only the infant whose presence doesn’t come under Border Patrol jurisdiction, an angry Peyton talks to Kenny again.  This time she’s trying to find out where Kenny’s tip came from, and he reluctantly gives her the scant information he has about a tall white guy he played poker with and the names of two locals who were at the game.

Peyton is also trying to help her younger sister, Elise, with her marital issues.  Elise got married young to her college professor, a man who was later convicted of two drug-related felonies.  He’s gone from job to job, with infidelities along the way, and now Elise is keeping her own secret from Peyton. 

Bitter Crossing is a terrific novel, filled both with an exciting plot and believable characters.  Peyton Cote is a strong woman, devoted to her family and her job.  The problem is, sometimes it seems almost impossible to balance the two.  This is a mystery that will keep you reading until the last page.

You can read more about D. A. Kelley at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.






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.