In The Spotlight: Paul Doiron’s Massacre Pond

>In The Spotlight: Christianna Brand's Green For DangerHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. One of the continuing issues that a lot of countries face is how to balance the need for conservation and ecological concern with the need for people to make a living. It’s not always as easy to resolve as it may seem, and several crime novels have addressed this issue. One of them is Paul Doiran’s Massacre Pond, the fourth in his Mike Bowditch series. Let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today.

Bowditch is a game warden who’s been assigned to the easternmost district of Maine (and of the United States). One day he gets a call from an acquaintance, Billy Cronk, who works as a kind of caretaker/assistant on the large property of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Morse. Bowditch has had dealings with Cronk before, as Cronk has found it hard to stay out of trouble. But this is a different sort of call. During his morning rounds of the property, Cronk discovered the bodies of ten moose. They weren’t killed for food or sport, as the remains were simply left there, and Cronk is terribly upset about it. So is Bowditch when he sees the damage.

Bowditch’s regional supervisor Lieutenant Marc Rivard begins an investigation, and he and the team have plenty of suspects. Betty Morse has recently bought a large amount of land that she is planning to give to the U.S. as a carefully protected wildlife preserve. The process of doing this is more time-consuming and involves more legalities than it may seem, so it’s not a done deal yet. But it has stirred up a great deal of controversy. On the one hand, Morse has many strong supporters who want to see Maine’s natural resources preserved. Animal rights activists also support Morse, claiming that hunting and fishing are barbarous. On the other hand, there are many people in the area who depend on hunting, fishing and guiding for a living. Plenty live in rural poverty and hunt to eat. And that’s to say nothing of the lumber and building industry. These people fear for their livelihoods. There are also those who resent what they see as ‘do-good meddling’ in their lives. It’s a complicated dilemma, and there is every chance that the moose were killed by protestors against the proposed preserve.

But there are other possibilities. Morse has a way of getting people’s backs up, as the saying goes. She has a very strong personality and a great deal of determination, and there are those who say that she’s using her money and influence as a power grab. Others say her motives for this project are not exactly sincere. She’s rather enigmatic, too, with a past that may or may not be what she would like others to think it is.

There isn’t very much evidence in the case, and the Maine Warden Service comes in for a lot of criticism. Everything changes, though, when there’s a murder. Now the police and the Warden Service will have to act quickly before someone else is killed.

One important element in this novel is the debate over how best to manage natural resources. It’s a very difficult issue with a lot at stake, and the solution will not be a simple one. The novel doesn’t present ‘the answer,’ but Doiron does make one important point. Whatever approach is chosen, it’s going to need more than just a set of laws or money. If the local people – the people who have to live with the consequences – don’t support a solution, it won’t work.

Along with this debate is the element of the eastern Maine setting. It’s a rural area where hunting and fishing are ways of life, and where people have learned to respect nature. The scenery has a rugged natural beauty, and Bowditch and his colleagues would like to keep it that way.

Places like this attract all sorts of different people, and Doiron makes that clear. There are those who simply want peace and quiet, those who are especially fond of nature, and others who are anti-government. Still others are what you might call modern-day hippies. They all have in common a desire to live their lives as they see fit. Bowditch knows most of the people in his jurisdiction and has learned that working with them reasonably is a lot more successful than asserting his authority (unless he has to do that).

Bowditch himself loves the area, and enjoys his work. Here’s what he says to Morse about it:
 

‘‘I’m a game warden, Ms. Morse…hunting and trapping and fishing mean something to me. They’re part of our heritage here in Maine and important activities in my own life.’’

He knows, too, that a lot of the people he serves depend on that heritage to eat. So as you can imagine, he has some highly charged conversations with Morse.

The story is told from Bowditch’s perspective, so readers learn about his character. He is an independent, pragmatic thinker, and that’s gotten him into his share of trouble with some of his more politically astute colleagues and superiors. He isn’t exactly a stereotypical maverick who can’t work with others. But he is unafraid to take risks if he sees a need. He’s got a strained relationship with his mother and stepfather, but he doesn’t obsess about it. Mostly, he wants to do his job the best he can. So it’s doubly difficult and frustrating for him as this case drags on with no real success.

The solution to the mystery comes out through detection and deduction, so in that sense, this is a bit like a police procedural. It’s also similar in that readers get a look at the politics of the Game Warden Service. Readers who wonder what game wardens really do and what their lives are like will find this series informative on that score.

This isn’t a light, easy crime novel. Knowing the truth doesn’t make everything right again, and it certainly solve the problem of wildlife conservation. But we do learn the truth. There are a few story-arc ‘loose ends, but readers are not left in doubt about who is guilty or how Bowditch finds out.

Massacre Pond gives readers a look at life in rural Maine. It also highlights the debate about the most responsible way to protect wildlife and natural resources while still respecting those who make their livings from those very resources. It features a game warden who sees past the larger debate to the individuals he’s supposed to protect, and tries to find pragmatic ways to get the job done. But what’s your view? Have you read Massacre Pond? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 17 August/Tuesday 18 August – Seneca Falls Inheritance – Miriam Grace Monfredo

Monday 24 August/Tuesday 25 August – Bitter Wash Road – Garry Disher

Monday 31 August/Tuesday 1 September – A Bad Day For Sorry – Sophie Littlefield

20 Comments

Filed under Massacre Pond, Paul Doiron

20 responses to “In The Spotlight: Paul Doiron’s Massacre Pond

  1. I was about to say that if I ever moved to the US, Maine would be the state I would most like to live in (I like northern climes, wildlife and spectacular fall leaves). Now, after reading this, I’m not so sure… I haven’t read this book, but it sounds promising.

    • Maine is actually a lovely state, Marina Sofia, with some of the most beautiful rural country, well, in the country. But that doesn’t make it crime-free… This novel really does present an interesting look at the people and land of rural eastern Maine. If you do read it, I hope you’ll like it.

  2. Kay

    This is another series that I’ve meant to read. Really, so many series. Sigh. Anyway, one day I’ll get it read or at least the first book. I’ve never been to Maine, but I’m sure it is beautiful. The only parts I want to avoid are the parts where Stephen King sets his books. LOL

    • Yes, indeed, Kay 😆 Stephen King’s Maine is not exactly – er – welcoming. I know what you mean about wanting to read series and just not getting to them. I have exactly the same problem. Too many series; too little time *sigh.* If you do read these novels, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  3. Funny that Kay mentioned Stephen King’s version of Maine. The picture of rural Maine in Under the Dome is scary. I have planned to read this series by Doiron also, I even have the first one but it just hasn’t made it to top of the pile.

    • That’s quite true, Tracy. King’s Maine is not exactly a nice, happy, easy place, is it? I hope you do get the chance to read The Poacher’s Son. If you do, I’ll be very much interested in what you think of it.

  4. Not having read much Stephen King, my picture of Maine comes direct from Cabot Cove – hence I think it looks like a wonderful part of the world, though with an exceptionally high murder rate! I don’t know whether I could cope with a book with hunting and trapping in it – as I age I find I’m not nearly as anti-hunting as I once was, since I have come to understand the debate isn’t a simple right/wrong one, but I’m still squeamish about it. The book does sound interesting though…

    • Ah, yes, Cabot Cove! I’m glad you mentioned it, FictionFan. There really are a lot of murders up that way… This particular book isn’t nearly as light as the TV show was, but it’s also not dark and twisted, the way King’s Maine is. As to the hunting question, it really isn’t a simple issue. And Doiron doesn’t pretend that it is. And, to his credit, it’s not settled and fixed at the end of the novel.

  5. I like the sound of the environmental theme – thanks Margot.

  6. Col

    Paul Doiron’s books sit on the pile – though not the 4th. I reigned myself in before getting too many! To be read soon I think!

  7. Another interesting author to check out and an intriguing book to add to my ever-growing TBR stack. It’s always fun to find new books. Thanks, Margot.

  8. Margot, the environmental theme of this novel is very contemporary and I like the fact that authors are increasingly setting their stories around ecology. It reminded me of “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham. I read somewhere that damage to environment and local habitat can affect people psychologically and even, indirectly, provoke them into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do, like including in criminal activity. Victims of circumstance, so to speak.

    • Well put, Prashant. I’ve read similar things, actually, and it doesn’t surprise me. Our ecological environment is a lot more important and has a lot more impact than we may think. Thanks, too, for mentioning the Grisham novel. Among other things, you’re absolutely right that it shows the relationship between people and environment.

  9. Though you make the book sounds quite good, I’ll not read it so as to avoid grinding my teeth over those who kill animals for their own “sport”. A moose or a tiger, I see no difference. I understand some people do subsistence hunting, but surely that’s the minority of those will rifles who go looking for something to kill. Of course, this opinion isn’t popular where I live – Oregon – any more than it would be in Maine. I might have considered this series, after all I like Nevada Barr’s Ana Pigeon books, but after reading the plot summary here, I think not. Regardless, thanks for the review, Margot!

    • You are by no means alone, Richard. There are many, many people who believe as you do. I understand why you plan to give this book a miss on that score. There is an interesting debate about the issue in the novel, but I will say that plenty of the characters feel the way your Oregon neighbours do…

  10. I recently finished Massacre Pond and have now read all four books in the series. I think it compares well with C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series set in Wyoming and that’s high praise.

    • Thanks, Kent, for your input. I’m very glad you’ve been enjoying the Mike Bowditch series. And I know what you mean by ‘high praise,’ too. Box’s Joe Pickett series is really very well done, in my opinion.

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