... I didn’t know what had disturbed me more: that I had doubted my father reflexively, or the wistful look that came into his eyes as he told that story, as if his own greatest wish was to vanish into the woods and never return.That quote, which comes early on in Paul Doiron’s absolutely flawless and brand-new debut mystery, The Poacher’s Son (Minotaur), sets the tone for this entire book.
Mike is now a Maine game warden, as his father once was. The old man has become a poacher in the woods and lakes of northern Maine, as well as a drunken brawler of frightening proportions. When Mike was just 9 years old, his mother--who could take no more--left Jack, scooping Mike up with her. Again, the results reverberate from past to present with eerie and touching precision.
The Poacher’s Son begins when Mike Bowditch receives a call from a farmer who says that his favorite pig, Pork Chop, has been stolen away by a large black bear. After warning the man not to shoot at a bear with the .22-caliber rifle he has in one hand--especially while clutching a can of beer in the other--the man retreats. “I watched him shuffle away into the house, head hanging, beer in hand,” recalls the warden. “No wonder his wife left him, I thought. Then I remembered my own empty bed back home and I stopped feeling so superior. Sarah had been gone exactly fifty-five days.”
Doiron, who in addition to being a novelist is also the editor-in-chief of Down East magazine, shows his love and knowledge of the Maine woods often. “I pushed my way into the forest. Beaded rainwater spilled off the leaves onto my shoulders and face. I was drenched in an instant. ... I knew retired game wardens and ancient trappers who could hear the rustle a buck made passing through alders across a stream. ... Maybe someday I’d be one of those old woodsmen. But for the moment I was still a twenty-four-year-old rookie, less than a year on the job, and my senses told me nothing about where the bear was.”
So far, this is my pick for Best Mystery of the Year.
READ MORE: “Interview: Paul Doiron and The Poacher’s Son”
(The Criminal Element).