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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Precipice by Paul Doiron

Minotaur Books, 336 pages, $25.99

I just heard Portland author Lori L. Lake mention at MBTB’s book group that she had heard two different authors refer to the power of book six in a series. Apparently it is the tipping point when people begin to notice authors; there’s an established track record and evidence that a publisher had faith in the books. Well, folks, “Precipice” is Paul Doiron’s book six in his Maine game warden Mike Bowditch series, and we need to take note of him.

I quietly admit that I had not read the previous five books, even though people whom I respect praised the series. I just hadn’t gotten around to it. Shame on me! I loved book six, and Doiron has tipped over to the side of must-read authors. Also, lucky me; I get to read five books without waiting a year for the next one to come out.

Without the knowledge of what came before, I only had this book to judge the recurring characters. Bowditch apparently overcame the difficult hurdle of being the son of a poacher — thus, the title of the first book in the series, “The Poacher’s Son”! — to become a game warden. Although he now appears responsible and wary, his prior behaviors were more spontaneous and reckless. (By the way, Bowditch’s first name isn’t even mentioned for about fifty pages!)

“Precipice” begins with the search for two missing female hikers on the Appalachian Trail. At first, Bowditch is paired with a hiking legend, “Nonstop” Nissen, who is more curmudgeon and showboater than partner, to search a piece of the trail for the women. As more clues appear, at times Bowditch searches with his girlfriend, impetuous wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, the daughter of Bowditch’s mentor. Quite a number of wardens, investigators, police, and other officials appear, but they neatly take their places, advance the story, then pop back out for the most part.

As more is learned about the hikers, it is not even clear that they may be dead. If they are dead, there are a satisfying number (for us readers) of potential murderers. Doiron manipulates Bowditch down this road and that, chasing down suspects and theories. It’s great suspenseful reading.

I’ll end with examples of Doiron’s evocative writing:

“As I stepped through the door, my nose was treated to an amazing bouquet of aromas: wood smoke from the stove, floral shampoo (or maybe soap), burned coffee, the steamy smell of drying sleeping bags, muddy boots that stank from within and without, bug repellent, the distinctly sweet odor of consumed alcohol being exhaled, and some sort of freeze-dried curry dish being heated on a propane camp stove.”

“I have never suffered from a fear of heights, but there was something unnerving about the way my feet kept slipping, as if an invisible pair of hands had closed around my ankles and was trying to yank them over the drop-off. I imagined the gorge as a malevolent entity intent upon tossing me to my death in the churning water below.”

“His voice seemed to bubble up from the bottom of his throat like something viscous.”

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