"The Poacher's Son" by Paul Doiron
Minotaur, 324 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Twenty-four-year-old Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is more like his father than he would care to admit, even if their father/son relationship has always been shaky at best, and they haven't spoken for two years at the beginning of this story.
They both have issues with the women in their life, and they have both disappointed the same woman-- Mike's mother, his father's ex-wife.
She "traded up" in the spouse department when Mike was 10, moving to the high-end burbs with a tax attorney. She's deeply disappointed that her only child isn't emulating his stepfather's profession, as is Mike's live-in-but-moved-out girlfriend-since-college, who hasn't been happy residing in a patched-up cabin out in nowhere, with little money to keep the rain from dripping into the house.
Mike's father, Jack, was far from happy when his son decided to become a warden, yet for a much different reason: Jack has always been a scofflaw in the great outdoors, trapping animals illegally; hunting and fishing where and when he pleased, down to jacklighting deer at night.
Never mind that he rattles around in his pickup with a bottle of whiskey between his knees. He is, as Mike would term it, a born-to-the-woods Maine redneck.
Mike has developed much more if a conscience, and it's haunting him mercilessly in Paul Doiron's debut novel, as Mike feels the need to clear his fugitive father from a charge of double-homicide: Bad enough, but especially when one of the victims is a police officer.
The young warden is coming apart at the seams, knowing that his father will be gunned down unless he effects a considerably cautious surrender. No matter how estranged they have become, no matter how much they have drifted toward different polarities of thinking, Mike believes he must do everything in his power to clear his Father.
In so doing, Mike further alienates his mother, stepfather, and on-and-off girlfriend. He's also infuriating his commanding officers in law enforcement, as he just about tosses his job on the ash heap.
The novel benefits from the built-in thrill of the chase, from the mystery of whether or not Jack Bowditch is an innocent man. The author turns the northern Maine topography-- with the omnipresent threat of logging/paper industries-- into a major character here.
The trees, the streams, the lakes and rivers and mountains certainly define many of the characters here, who owe their livelihoods to nature in some way, shape, or form (as Jack and Mike do).
The final third of the novel is particularly well composed, as Jack encounters a true father figure and the sort of homestead for which he has longed. Even though that homestead is not without its personal tragedies, its members have surmounted most of their difficulties, as Mike's mother and father could not.
As with John Hart's books (Hart is also prone to delve into the complexities of father/son issues), the seemingly simple story must resolve itself against its characters' trials and their resulting motivations, which in turn are often tied directly to the terrain on which they dwell.
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