Paul Doiron- The Poacher’s Son

Set in the wilds of Maine, this is an explosive tale of an estranged son thrust into the hunt for a murderous fugitive – his own father.Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find an alarming voice from the past on his answering machine: his father Jack, a hard-drinking womanizer who makes his living from poaching illegal game. An even more frightening call comes the next morning from the police: they are searching for a cop-killer – and Mike’s father is their prime suspect.Now, alienated from the woman he loves and shunned by colleagues who have no sympathy for the suspected cop killer, Mike must come to terms with his haunted past. He knows firsthand of his father’s brutality, but is he capable of murder? Desperate and alone, the only way for Mike to save his father is to find the real killer – which could mean putting everyone he loves into the line of fire…

Another crime thriller that paves the way for the arrival of a potentially great series featuring the character of Mike Bowditch, a young Maine game warden, thrust into an investigation where the chief suspect is his estranged father. With, at times, lyrical prose and a sense of location that eloquently portrays the natural beauty of backwoods Maine, this novel held my attention throughout and here’s why…

 What this book most movingly conveys is a young man’s struggle, at the beginning of what could be a promising career, to balance the demands of his profession with the demands of family loyalty. Despite his dysfunctional upbringing at the hands of his entirely irresponsible father, the nagging sense of duty Mike experiences to defend his father’s name when implicated in a senseless murder, leads him into an emotional case that could be the undoing of his own career. Mike experiences a maelstrom of emotions that cause him to act very much out of character, but highlight his single minded determination to not only solve the case but attempt to lay to rest the ghosts of his past life.  As Mike disobeys the edicts of his superiors to track down his father on the run through the wild terrain, he takes an uncomfortable journey back to the source of his uneasy relationship with his father to determine his father’s guilt or innocence, with other formerly peripheral figures from his formative years, having their own part to play in his search for the truth. The characterisation is perfectly weighted throughout the book, not only in the central charaters of Mike and his father, but by those who seek to help or hinder this troubled young man in his emotionally difficult case. There are two particularly well-realised female characters in the novel. Mike’s colleague Kathy Frost, understands Mike’s torn loyalties and in her own straight talking manner endeavours to keep him on the right track, recognising the promise in him, and she is set against BJ, a figure from Mike’s past who re-enters his life, skilfully manipulating him and his father, in her role as a kind of backwoods femme fatale. Through the machinations of a great cast of characters, Doiron, weaves a great plot, which not only plays out as a solid murder mystery, but also encapsulates the struggle of life in a community now controlled at the behest of all powerful logging companies, who have tightened their hold, and dictate to a large extent the socio-economic life of this community and highlighting the tensions that arise within.

 What struck me most about this book was the absolute attention paid to location and sense of place. I have read a number of contemporary American fiction writers, who in the naturalistic tradition of American literature, wield their portrayal of landscape as almost another character in their books and Doiron achieves the same effect. His grasp of description and the use of natural images is superlative throughout the book, appealing to the reader’s senses and awakening our imagination to a locale, that many of us will never witness, but feel that we can picture with astonishing clarity. With the destruction of the landscape and communities,  I highlighted earlier, Doiron challenges us to weigh up the demands of big business, against the huge loss of a beautiful wilderness previously unspoilt. This he achieves by the emotional weight he pours into his lyrical depiction of this area and makes for another undercurrent of interest to the central storyline.

 In closing I would say that this novel appealed to me on many levels with the sheer balance achieved between an engaging plot, solid characterisation and the strength of Doiron’s description of both the environment and the conflicts that arise within it. A very satisfying read and an author that I would most certainly recommend.

Bestselling author Paul Doiron has won the Barry Award, the Strand Critics Award, and the Maine Literary Award for crime fiction and has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and the Thriller Award. He is the editor in chief of Down East and a Registered Maine Guide. Find out more here: Follow Paul on Twitter @pauldoiron

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‘The Poacher’s Son’ due to be published in UK hardback 17th January  (Constable & Robinson)

(With thanks to Constable & Robinson for the ARC)


    • You’re right Keith! It is very similar in style to Box which like you say is no bad thing at all. Will be interested to read the others in Doiron’s series as well. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

  1. I was going to mention Box’s work, too! I don’t normally like comparing authors because each is unique. Still… And I’m always drawn to a novel with a strong and respectful sense of place. Interesting assignment for a game warden too – it sounds as though there’s a solid level of character development and conflict and that can really make a novel richer. Thanks for sharing – excellent review.

    • Yes Margot, I’m not keen on comparisons either but Box is worth a mention and I was also slightly reminded of one of my favourites Steve Hamilton as well, as the location was so integral to the plot. Thanks for your comments Margot 🙂

  2. This one sounds really good. I really take to the books with a good strong hunt! I just finished R.S. Guthrie’s Blood Land, it is a really gripping story and that is what looks good about this book! if anyone wants to check out that book as I will be looking for this one soon!

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