By Brenda Buchanan
Paul Doiron was in my doghouse last week. His newest Mike Bowditch novel, The Precipice, had me awake until well after midnight two nights in a row, and I’m a girl who needs her sleep. The book is so good I’m giving over my real estate here at Maine Crime Writers today to explain why I’ll be betting on it when 2015 award season rolls around.
First off, Dorion, a Maine Crime Writers blog alum, knows how to write the heck out of the Maine wilderness. He demonstrated that with his 2010 debut, The Poacher’s Son, which won a Barry and a Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for a slew of others, including an Edgar. Readers hung on by their fingernails as Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch took them deep into the Maine woods in an effort to prove his reprobate father was not responsible for murdering two men, one of them a state trooper.
Doiron followed up with Trespasser, Bad Little Falls, Massacre Pond and The Bone Orchard, each set in a different part of Maine because his protagonist’s reckless approach to his job had a tendency to irritate the hell out of his chain-of-command respecting bosses. In fact, by the time The Bone Orchard rolled around, Bowditch had resigned from the Warden Service, aware that he was one more headlong pursuit away from being fired. But when his longtime mentor was attacked and nearly killed, the impulsive warden realized his drive to be in the middle of the action didn’t go away when he turned in his badge. By the end of that book Bowditch was back in uniform, having realized the value of being a team player in a job that involves busting bad guys in Maine’s wildlands.
In The Precipice, Doiron shows us a more mature, confident Mike Bowditch, who is summoned along with all other available wardens to the North Woods when a pair of young, female Appalachian Trail thru-hikers disappears in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. The all-boots-on-the-ground call interrupts an idyllic getaway Bowditch hoped would impress his new girlfriend. He wears his disappointment on his sleeve. Her reaction is more muted. That turns out to be their ongoing relationship dynamic, but she’s not playing hard to get, she is hard to get.
Stacey Stevens is a wildlife biologist, pilot and wilderness first responder. The daughter of a retired warden pilot who has long been something of a father figure to Mike, Stacy is as comfortable as Mike in the outdoors. She can match him step for step when hiking a backwoods trail and identify birdsong and scat as fast as he can. In short, Stacey Stevens is Mike Bowditch’s dream woman, but she gives no consistent indication he is her dream man. In a lovely role reversal, a more seasoned Bowditch has mastered impulse control, and Stacey—at 30 a couple of years older than Mike—is the one prone to take crazy risks while trying to solve the case.
Doiron is particularly skilled at describing Maine in all of its beautiful, perilous seasons. The Precipice takes place in the fall, when AT thru hikers are finishing their long walk from Georgia. He provides the reader with a palpable sense of Maine’s wildness, and the very real dangers that are a fact of life in untamed areas of the state.
Having ascended Katahdin and several other of Baxter’s peaks before the cartilage in my knees got too old, my heart pounded with remembered fear when Mike struggled for footing on a rocky trail that a thunderstorm turned into a raging stream. Readers of The Precipice who’ve never spent time in the remote areas of Maine should heed this chilling passage:
I stopped in a sheltered crevice between two boulders and took a swig from my water bottle. I’d nearly drained both of the quart containers on my climb up Chairback. It felt strange to be soaked to the skin and yet so dehydrated at the same time. An hour earlier, I’d been on the verge of heat stroke; now I was goose-pimpled from the cold. Every warden has seen fatal cases of hypothermia in the middle of summer: swimmers who overestimate the warmth of a spring-fed pond, mountain climbers who wander into pouring rain above the treeline. All it takes is enough cold water to depress your body temperature ten degrees. There are so many ways a person can die in the woods.
In The Precipice, the hunt for the missing women is compelling. The characters are memorable. The tension is exquisite. Best of all, the reader is given an unmitigated opportunity to cheer for Mike Bowditch, who is turning into the kind of man he always had the potential to be.
Get your hands on a copy of The Precipice and be prepared for it to keep you reading deep into the night. It’s that good.