I hope Paul Doiron doesn’t follow the same trajectory of some of my other favorite crime novelists whose books got better and better until they hit a plateau – often writing the same novel book after book – or worse, deteriorating until I couldn’t read the first chapters without setting the books aside with a sigh of disappointment.
Doiron, the editor of Down East magazine, is certainly on the upward trajectory right now. I liked his first novel, The Poacher’s Son. I really liked his second novel, Trespasser. And I loved his third about-to-be-published by Minotaur books novel, Bad Little Falls.
There’s no way in the world, after reading Chapter One of Bad Little Falls that you’ll be able to set this one aside. Doiron’s principle character is a Maine game warden, and Paul has invested a lot of time in the stories, procedures, and challenges of the Maine Warden Service. And he’s got it all right.
But in this novel, he tackles a couple of other issues that may rankle in some quarters. The story is set in Washington County and his portrayal of the people there is harsh: lots of drug and alcohol problems, poverty, unhealthy lifestyles, trashy trailers, wild and crazy ATV and snowmobile riding, and poaching. OK, sounds like the Maine Wardens’ TV show on Animal Planet. And this portrayal might be accurate, but it hurts!
Paul also expresses clear disdain for what the state calls “commercial shooting areas.” These are game farms where hunters can harvest animals that are not native to Maine, from bison to elk. Early in Paul’s novel, a zebra is found frozen at one of these game farms. And the owner of the farm is a seriously bad guy.
After a serious legislative battle ten years ago over this practice, a law was enacted that grandfathered existing game farms and allowed only one per county in the future. The effort to ban them entirely in Maine was led by Representative Matt Dunlap and Senator Marge Kilkelly. Representative John Martin was the primary advocate for the game farms and he successfully fashioned the compromise.
Dunlap is running this year as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate while Kilkelly is the policy director for the Senate campaign of Angus King.
Well, back to the novel. I hate reviews that spill all the beans, so I’ll limit this to the following: there’s the protagonist, Warden Mike Bowditch, who makes bad personal decisions and gets along with almost no one, especially his superior officers. I’m still wondering if he’s modeled after someone Paul met in the Maine Warden Service.
There are blizzards, drownings, murders, despicable characters, beautiful but flawed women, a creepy kid, and a lot more. I loved the chapter when someone tossed a skunk into Bowditch’s trailer. I could almost smell the skunk – or perhaps the scene simply reminded me of the time I got blasted right in the face by one.
I love being challenged by a writer and Doiron came through with the word “homunculous.” I had to look it up. I expect you will too.
Doiron has quickly become a nationally recognized novelist, nominated already for Anthony and Edgar awards. Bad Little Falls will get lots of recognition too. But now Paul’s challenge will be to continue his upward trajectory!