‘Massacre Pond’ is a tense and clever mystery
“Massacre Pond” (Minotaur), by Paul Doiron
Elizabeth Morse, who made her fortune selling worthless herbal remedies to the gullible, is buying up huge parcels of timberland in Eastern Maine with the hope of persuading the federal government to turn it into a national park.
The locals, from the politicians and timber barons to the poachers and sawmill workers, don’t like it one bit. She’s put land they’ve fished and hunted for generations off-limits. Worse, she’s killing forestry industry jobs.
So trouble is sure to come to the backwater of lakes and forests patrolled by Maine game warden Mike Bowditch, the hero of three earlier crime novels by Paul Doiron. It does so in the form of intruders who slip onto Morse’s property, shoot some moose and leave the carcasses for scavengers.
The story was inspired by a failed attempt to create a North Woods National Park and by the unsolved 1999 “Soldiertown moose massacre,” the worst wildlife crime in Maine history. However, Doiron has fictionalized all the details, moving the location far to the southeast.
Warden Bowditch itches to dive into the investigation, but his boss, self-serving Lt. Rivard, keeps him on the periphery with make-work assignments. Trying to live down a reputation for insubordination, Bowditch seethes but follows orders. Naturally, trouble finds him anyway. Before long, someone shoots up Morse’s palatial home, victims with two legs start piling up, the press questions the baffled investigators’ competence, and one of Bowditch’s buddies, wildlife poacher Billy Cronk, emerges as a suspect.
Doiron fashions a tense and clever mystery peopled by characters you could well meet by wandering into the wrong Down East bar. As usual, he peppers his superbly well-written yarn with evocative descriptions of the state he and Bowditch call home, including this passage about nightfall in the forest:
“A stillness surrounds you that makes every stray sound — even an acorn dropping, every chipmunk peep — seem overly loud. The birds go quiet. Sometimes you’ll hear a distant crashing that makes your heart stop; a buck has caught your scent and gone leaping off into the brush before you can spot the white flag of his tail.”
Bowditch’s personal life has never been smooth; his father turned out to be a killer in “The Poacher’s Son” 2010). This time, his troubles include an unrequited love for a friend’s daughter and the troubling behavior of his seldom-visited mother. Despite the distractions, he cracks the case, but only at considerable cost to himself and people close to him.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of “Cliff Walk” and “Rogue Island.”