There's a certain fascination with those who dare to live away from bright lights and big cities. Those who exist in the few geographical pockets without cell phone reception, computers, or modern ties to "civilization" command a unique respect and admiration from their plugged-in urban brethren. Whether it runs in the blood of those born unto its quietude or is sought by those who seek it's solitude and escape, there is something eerily seductive about those who opt for backcountry over backyard.
Author Paul Doiron wastes no time pulling us into such a world; in this case the deep, wildly mysterious heart of Maine's North Woods. With only its pocked, calloused logging roads for access, the untamed environs of northern Maine provide the perfect backdrop for Doiron's heart-racing thriller. With many miles to run and endless places to hide, Doiron capitalizes on the forest's alternating brilliance and pitch-black isolation to raise the reader's pulse as state police track fugitive Jack Bowditch on the biggest manhunt in years.
As son of the accused, Mike Bowditch's loyalties are suspect. Teetering on both sides of the law, the young game warden simply can't reconcile murder with the man that is his father. Barred from the investigation, and desperate to locate his father before the authorities do, Mike makes his own dangerous moves. Shifting into his father's reckless mindset, Mike rehashes the past in order to map his father's next move - taking the reader with him at breakneck speed. "This was my father's country. He used to brag that you could drop him, blindfolded, anywhere in the woods between Rangely and Jackman and in five minutes he'd deduce his location. It wasn't an idle boast. He'd hiked hundreds of miles through these mountains with a rifle slung over his shoulder, needing no compass to guide him home... if anyone could vanish into these North Woods, it was my dad. I wondered if the searchers knew what they were chasing."
As The Poacher's Son accelerates, Doiron taps into the local color to introduce a varied cast of eccentric characters. From serene backwater pilots to brassy bartenders to shady officers of the local law, each of Doiron's characters offer up potential motives and possibilities to keep you hooked. Though few can paint Mike's father in a positive light, you find yourself reluctantly urging Jack's escape for the mere sake of his son. "It seemed like I'd spent my whole life either embarrassed by him or trying to win his approval. I even became a law officer because of him - to make amends, if that was possible, for the petty crimes he'd committed against society and against his own family." Ultimately, through the scrutiny of his relationship, Mike realizes he is inextricably bound by the tough ties of family.
Despite its fast pace, The Poacher's Son has considerable depth, drawn from the author's own deep love of the land. By using game warden Bowditch's ruminations to voice disdain of modern development, Doiron cleverly posits questions of ecological integrity without sacrificing the tempo of the story line. "When we first moved... there were still cornfields and thick oak forests that stretched for miles. Then the houses really began to sprout, first along the country wherever there was enough land for building. Soon the weedy fields where I'd caught garter snakes became a grid of neocolonial homes and impossibly green lawns. Woods where Wabanaki Indians had once hunted deer were cleared to make way for "Indian Woods Estates." Such eco-laments not only offer insight into the corporate invasion of Maine's pristine lands, but also lend The Poacher's Son an intelligence pertinent to the thickening plot.
The Poacher's Son is stocked with excitement and trepidation. Peering over the shoulder of Mike Bowditch as he combs through the eerie silence of the North Woods is pure nail-biting fun. Paul Doiron expertly takes hundreds of miles of largely uninhabited terrain and pares them down to a veritable base camp providing readers with easy access to both the thrill of the story and the breathtaking beauty of Maine's northern exposure. Loaded with unexpected twists, The Poacher's Son takes you to the edge and leaves you begging for more.
The Poacher's Son is the first book in Paul Doiron's Mike Bowditch series.
This review was originally published in May 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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