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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Poacher's Son

This is a review of the 7-CD audio book version of The Poacher’s Son, as read by John Bedford Lloyd.

Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is not in a happy place. He believes that his girlfriend of four years left him because he refuses to resign his game warden position. Now that she is gone, all Mike has left are the solitary hours he spends watching for poachers and helping injured animals in his section of the Maine woods. Mike made his choice and is willing to live with it.

Things are bad now – but they will get much worse when he discovers a phone message from his hard drinking poacher father, the man who deserted Mike and his mother when Mike was just a boy. A phone call to his son is so out of character for Jack Bowditch that his son senses that something is terribly wrong. But even knowing what a disaster his father’s life has turned into, Mike Bowditch cannot imagine that he will soon be the only thing standing between his father and the lawmen who accuse him of assassinating a policeman and a paper company executive. Mike refuses to believe that his father is capable of murder and his biggest fear is that, before he can safely surrender, his father will be gunned down by the lawmen searching Maine and southern Canada for him.

The Poacher’s Son explores the strengths and weaknesses of the father-son relationship, a bond that is often strong enough to blind a son to his father’s weaknesses, and worse. Mike Bowditch convinces himself that, despite everything he knows about his father’s despicable behavior and his drinking problems, the man would never do what he is accused of having done. He so much wants to bring his father safely into custody that he is willing to put his own job on the line by interfering in the manhunt despite direct orders from his lieutenant to stay clear of the whole thing. But is his father as innocent as Mike believes him to be? Or, as the authorities believe, is he a killer willing to use his son to cover his tracks until he can escape his pursuers?

The isolated woods of Maine make an excellent setting for Paul Doiron’s story and he gives the reader a good feel for what life in that part of the country must be like. As Doiron describes it, the locale is a mixture of awesome beauty and isolation, a place the locals fear will be spoiled by the outsiders seeking to exploit its resources for their own purposes. Those woods provide Jack Bowditch with the cover he needs to stay on the run and the isolation they create makes possible many of the twists in Doiron’s plot.

Mike Bowditch is a young man, a likeable enough hero who knows his way around the Maine wilderness but is still a little too na├»ve and inexperienced for his own good. His temper, combined with his inability to control his mouth when he is angry, sees him consistently making things rougher for himself than they have to be. Some of the book’s other characters tend to err on the stereotypical side of the scale, however. This is the case with Truman (the drunken Indian), the retired game warden (and his devoted wife) who takes Mike under his wing when every other lawman within 500 miles would prefer to chew his head off, and B.J., the brash young woman/slut who grew up in an isolated fishing camp known as Rum Pond.

Perhaps these characters seem stereotypical because of the stoic way that John Bedford Lloyd reads the author’s characterizations. For most of the book, Lloyd uses the same steady monotone to present the book, only occasionally changing his voice or inflection to add a little life to one of the characters. Unfortunately, it is only toward the end of the book that Lloyd seems to gain any enthusiasm about the story he is telling, when he does a nice job on the book’s climax.

Despite my misgivings about The Poacher’s Son, Paul Doiron has made me curious enough to wonder how the Mike Bowditch character will evolve over time. I will very likely look at the next book in the series to see how he’s doing.

Rated at: 3.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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