Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron - Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He is clever and well educated, a combination not always appreciated by his fellow wardens and superiors. Obedience to authority is a challenge for Bowditch.
His current posting reflects his situation:
Here they’d gone and exiled me to the easternmost county in the United States – a desolate outland where game wardens were hated and oxycodone abuse was epidemic – but still I refused to explode.
With forest covering the region all work and play is connected to the forest. The area has been in economic decline for decades. The major employer, Skillen Lumber, has shrunk dramatically and is hanging on as a business.
Elizabeth “Betty” Morse has made a dramatic entry into the area. After amassing a $500 million dollar fortune from the sale of “herbal health supplements” she had concocted she has purchased 100,000 acres of forest land in northeastern Maine. She instantly became infamous when, with regard to her newly purchased lands:
…. she’d promptly declared (them) off-limits to loggers, hunters, all-terrain-vehicle riders, fishermen and snowmobilers. Her intention, she announced, was to donate the land to the federal government to create a new national park where timber wolves and woodland caribou would once again roam free.
Anger against “Queen Elizabeth” is intense as residents fear for their jobs and resent the loss of freedom to roam and hunt and fish her lands.
There is a dichotomy in the American psyche that prizes private ownership of land but expects access for recreation to large tracts of private land.
Bowditch’s friend, Billy Cronk, is working for Ms. Morse. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan he has not found the transition to civilian life an easy process.
He calls Bowditch when he finds moose killed upon Ms. Morse’s property. After examining the corpses of a mother moose and two offspring they start searching her property and find there has been a series of killings the previous night. They find 6 moose slaughtered and left to rot. A more detailed search determines there were at least 10 moose killed. It is the worst wildlife crime in Maine history.
It appears the killers were crack shots. They have used .22 rifles and rarely more than a single shot to kill the moose. It takes skill to kill a moose with a .22.
A task force is formed by the wardens led by Lieutenant Marc Rivard. There is mutual distrust between Bowditch and Rivard. Bowditch knows he will have little role in the investigation though the crime has taken place in his area. His expectations are met when Rivard assigns him to go through area gravel pits where gun owners routinely practice shooting. He is to seek out .22 casings to see if any match the casings left behind at the killing sites on the Morse land. It is useless work.
The wardents seek suspects in the area. As always, no one wants the killers to be respected local residents. The community would be content were it a hermit like survivalist or an overweight unemployed poacher.
Bowditch’s relationship with Rivard is excerabated when, after Morse meets Bowditch, she regally requests Bowditch be assigned as liason between herself and the task force.
While there is some forensic evidence none of it is connected directly to any suspects.
As the investigation proceeds Bowditch is called to the city, a drive of over 4 hours, to see his mother. He has spent little time in recent years on their relationship. On his arrival he finds out she has stage 3 ovarian cancer. Her prognosis is grim. Guilt based on his neglect pushes him to reflect on the relationships of his life. It is a discouraging reflection.
Doiron draws the reader easily through the story. He is clearly very familiar with the woods of Maine.
While I enjoyed the book I thought the ending weak. It had the feel of an author who was struggling to find a way to conclude the story. The ending came abruptly and without the flow of plot that had marked the rest of the book.
I will look to read another in the series. Bowditch is an interesting sleuth. I appreciate the setting in Maine. There is character development, even of some of the bad guys. Doiron is a talented writer.