Massacre Pond is Edgar finalist Paul Doiron's superb new novel featuring Game Warden Mike Bowditch and a beautiful, enigmatic woman whose mission to save the Maine wilderness may have incited a murder
On an unseasonably hot October morning, Bowditch is called to the scene of a bizarre crime: the corpses of seven moose have been found senselessly butchered on the estate of Elizabeth Morse, a wealthy animal rights activist who is buying up huge parcels of timberland to create a new national park.
What at first seems like mindless slaughterretribution by locals for the job losses Morse's plan is already causing in the regionbecomes far more sinister when a shocking murder is discovered and Mike's investigation becomes a hunt to find a ruthless killer. In order to solve the controversial case, Bowditch risks losing everything he holds dear: his best friends, his career as a law enforcement officer, and the love of his life.
The beauty and magnificence of the Maine woods is the setting for a story of suspense and violence when one powerful woman's missionary zeal comes face to face with ruthless cruelty.
About the Author
Bestselling author PAUL DOIRON is the editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine. A native of Maine, he attended Yale University and holds an MFA from Emerson College. His first book, The Poacher's Son, is the winner of the Barry award, the Strand award for best first novel, and a finalist for the Edgar and Anthony awards. Paul is a Registered Maine Guide and lives on a trout stream in coastal Maine with his wife, Kristen Lindquist.
Read an Excerpt
By Paul Doiron
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Paul Doiron
All rights reserved.
The first time I laid eyes on Billy Cronk, I thought he was the biggest badass in the Maine woods: six-five, braided blond hair, a tangled mess of a beard. He had arms that could have snapped a two-by-four over his knee for kindling. The night I arrested him for hunting on posted property, I kept my hand close to my pistol, wondering if this wild blue-eyed bruiser would be the death of me.
As a game warden, I'd met more than my share of roadhouse brawlers and die-hard deer poachers, and I understood that most violent men are cowards. Billy Cronk was different. He never doubted his physical prowess and had no need to prove himself against lesser men. He accepted the summons I wrote without forcing me to wrestle him into handcuffs. In fact, he thanked me for it, lowering his eyes out of embarrassment. The more I learned about the man, the more he surprised me.
He'd been a rifleman in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of his duties had been picking up the pieces of friends blown up by roadside bombs. Back home in Maine, working as a hunting and fishing guide, he'd gutted his share of black bears and hoisted them on a pole for smiling hunters to pose with for photographs. He'd seen coyotes disembowel fleeing deer they'd chased onto frozen lakes, leaving bloody paw prints on the ice. Once, while fly-fishing, he'd watched a school of bass gulp down a row of ducklings while the mother beat the water with her wings. Billy Cronk understood that nature was as indifferent to the moral sensibilities of twenty-first-century human beings as humans themselves were.
Our friendship had taken us both by surprise, since I was the game warden who'd gotten him fired from his job at the Call of the Wild Game Ranch. At my urging, in exchange for dropping the illegal-hunting charge, he had informed on his asshole boss for various crimes and misdemeanors, the least egregious of which was letting loose a live skunk in the trailer of the district game warden (me). When his employer told Billy to go to hell, the news hit him hard. Despite all the atrocities he had witnessed, there was a surprising innocence about the man, as if he never expected the worst from anyone, and so found himself on the receiving end of one disappointment after another. It was in his makeup to be continually heartbroken.
Billy had avoided me for the first few months after his termination, but we'd kept running into each other on the same trout streams, and eventually we struck up a conversation that revealed we shared a favorite book, an obscure Siberian adventure called Dersu the Trapper. I had never taken Billy for the literary type. His first take on me was equally unflattering. In his estimation, I had a stick permanently wedged halfway up my ass. But we were the same age — twenty-six — and loved the North Woods in a way few other people seemed to understand.
The last time I'd visited his house, I'd come upon him stripped to the waist, chopping firewood in the backyard. The glittering late-autumn sunlight made his tanned arms and chest look like they'd been cast in bronze. Billy usually wore his long hair in a braid, but he'd let it loose for the afternoon, and my first impression, when I saw him whaling away with an ax on a defenseless hunk of oak, was of a Viking marauder driven into a frenzy by vengeful gods.
Every law officer understands the danger of making quick assumptions, but this truism applied to my new friend in spades. His sheer size and resemblance to the Mighty Thor gave him a dangerous aura, especially when you caught sight of the KA-BAR knife strapped to his thigh. In a crowded roadhouse, Billy could reduce the loudest biker to silence just by fixing him with a pale, cold stare. But I had seen tears in those same eyes while he watched his kids chasing each other like puppies around the picnic table and his soft-hipped wife, Aimee, served us Budweiser tall boys.
"I'm a fortunate man, Mike," he'd said.
"Yes, you are."
"Sometimes I forget, though."
"You've got five reminders right there," I said, indicating his wife and children. The blond kids were all under the age of six, dirty-faced, and confusingly similar in appearance. Billy called them the "Cronklets."
"I wish I could do better for them," Billy said in his thick Down East accent. "A man should be able to provide for his family. Something's wrong with him if he can't."
I was between girlfriends myself, and the thought of a family of my own seemed like one of those empty promises doctors offer at the bedsides of dying patients. "There's nothing wrong with you, Billy."
My friend smiled, trying to humor me, but I knew he was unable to accept my assurances.
I couldn't really blame him. I'd grown up poor myself and understood what it was like to feel the constant anxiety of unpaid bills and empty cupboards. Before my mother grew sick of my father's abuse and alcoholism and filed for divorce, we'd lived a lot like the Cronks — holed up in drafty cabins we couldn't afford to heat, and wearing secondhand clothing scavenged from boxes in church basements. Just that week, I'd seen Aimee Cronk at the supermarket in Machias paying for her groceries with one of those EBT food-stamp cards, and I suspected that Billy might still occasionally poach some deer for the freezer (he and I had our own don't ask, don't tell policy). It had taken him six months to land another job after Joe Brogan fired him.
"How's work going?" I asked as we stood over the sizzling grill, turning venison hamburgers.
I rubbed my newly barbered crew cut. "What do you mean?"
He lowered his voice so Aimee wouldn't hear. "Yesterday, Ms. Morse made me open a package that came in the mail. She thought it might be a pipe bomb or something. I told her we should dip it in the bathtub first, just to be safe."
"What was inside?"
"An old book her friend bought at some auction, paintings of birds by that guy Audubon. It got kind of waterlogged. Ms. Morse threatened to deduct the cost from my paycheck. She pretended she was joking, but you can never tell with her."
I swatted a no-see-um that had alighted behind my ear. "She didn't recognize her friend's handwriting on the package?"
"Ms. Morse said it looked 'suspicious.'"
"I can't say I blame her for being paranoid."
Elizabeth "Betty" Morse had built a log mansion on Sixth Machias Lake on a pine-shaded point where a historic sporting camp had stood for more than a century, and now she required a considerable domestic staff to help run the property. I'm not sure what Billy's official job title was, but he seemed to function as her personal driver, handyman, and forester — his duties dictated by the needs of the day. Increasingly, he also served as her bodyguard.
Betty Morse needed guarding. She was a former hippie who had started a small business selling dried herbs at farmers' markets. In time, she hired some local women to help produce various types of organic teas, which she peddled to natural-food stores, first in Maine and then around the country. Eventually, she opened a factory somewhere out of state — down south, I think — and began manufacturing herbal health supplements. These pills won the endorsement of Hollywood celebrities, who, in turn, made the brand a hit with a nation of dieting housewives. When EarthMother, Inc., went public, The Wall Street Journal said Betty Morse netted half a billion dollars. She gave away some of the money to animal-rights groups and used another chunk to purchase 100,000 acres of Down East timberland, which she'd promptly declared 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.
The idea hadn't gone over well with my neighbors, many of whom were employed by the woods-products industry and didn't know where to ride their ATVs or shoot their AR-15s now that "Queen Elizabeth" had cordoned off half of Washington County. Morse told them not to worry; she promised a sunny economic future in which they would sell goods and services to crowds of tourists eager to experience a brand-new wilderness within a day's drive of Boston. Her de facto subjects greeted this promise with skepticism, to say the least.
I was doing my best to withhold judgment on the idea, but it wasn't easy staying out of arguments. Elizabeth Morse was the number-one topic at every diner and bait shop I visited that fall.
The number-two topic was the weird October heat.
No one in Maine could remember an autumn this insufferable. Johnny-jump-ups were jumping up for the third time outside the Washington County courthouse, and the persistence of mosquitoes in the woods behind my cabin seemed less like an annoyance and more like an ominous disruption in the natural order of things. Frustrated moose hunters blamed the seventy-degree heat for the refusal of the big bulls to leave the coolness of the peat bogs and move to the upland clear-cuts, where they could be dispatched (illegally) from the backs of pickup trucks. Even the old cranks down at Day's General Store muttered the words global warming without their usual sneers.
Every day, going on patrol in my shirtsleeves and orange hunting vest, I experienced a sense of temporal dislocation. The foliage was fading in the treetops, and yet the sun continued to blaze like a frying pan left too long on the stove. Sooner or later, I knew, we would pay a price for this never-ending Indian summer.
So when Billy Cronk called to say that he'd stumbled on something bad on the Morse property, I figured the bill might finally have come due.
"It's bad, Mike," he told me in a quavering voice I'd never heard from him before. "Wicked bad."
But what I found on Betty Morse's estate was more than bad. It was evil.CHAPTER 2
Billy wouldn't get into details over the phone, but he said he'd meet me at Morse's new gate — the one that blocked access to the south shore of Sixth Machias Lake.
My patrol truck was making a shrill noise that might have been a loose belt or a dying scream — I wasn't sure which. The old GMC was covered with "warden pinstripes" from where bushes had scratched green paint from its sides, and it had a fist-size dent in the middle of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife logo on the door. I'd put in a request for a new vehicle over the summer but held out little hope of seeing a replacement, not while my own future continued to be in doubt.
For three years, my fellow wardens had been taking bets on my own longevity in the service. In the minds of my superiors, Warden Mike Bowditch was the human equivalent of a grenade with a pulled pin. How, they wondered, can anyone behave so self-destructively without ever actually destructing? 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. Instead, I kept doing my job as if I were oblivious to the contempt in which I was held. I had decided that the only way for me ever to be happy was to be true to my own values. And while I can't say I was the embodiment of joy, I was beginning to understand the emotional rewards that come from living in the moment and doing good work.
Billy had opened Betty Morse's iron gate and was standing beside the new NO HUNTING sign, waiting for me to drive through. He was wearing blue jeans tucked into tall neoprene-sided boots, a Western-style belt with an actual tarantula embedded in the buckle, and a blue Henley pullover that showed off his impressive musculature when he swung the gate shut behind my pickup. The heavy metallic clang reminded me of past visits to the state prison and other hopeless places. I felt a growing sense of dread as I rolled down my window.
Glancing in the side mirror, I watched Billy stoop to reset the combination lock and then come striding up alongside the truck. He peered down at me, his eyes flat, his sharp cheekbones shining with perspiration.
"What's going on, Billy?"
"The first one is up here a ways," he said, pointing at the rust-colored road. There were no hardwoods in this part of the forest, only pines, firs, and hemlocks. Over the decades, the trees had shed their needles, forming a soft carpet for any vehicles that might pass beneath them. I saw Billy's blue F250 parked in the shadow of the boughs.
"You want to ride with me?" I asked.
"It would be better if I went ahead." His voice started as a rumble down around his spleen and was as intimidating as the rest of him. "We got some ground to cover, and I ain't sure where we're going to end up."
I waited for him to start his pickup and then tagged along behind his trailer hitch a few miles, wondering what all the mystery was about. Billy had a flair for the dramatic — witness the tarantula belt and the heavy-metal hairstyle — but this seemed different: a reluctance, or even inability, to put what he'd discovered into words.
Eventually, the road emerged from beneath the evergreens and crossed a meadow overgrown at the edges with poplars, paper birches, and speckled alders. The road was powder-dry from baking in the sunlight, and Billy's tires kicked up a cloud of dust so thick I almost ran into the back of his tail bed when he applied the brakes.
I watched him unfold himself from his Ford — no vehicle made offered enough headroom for my towering friend — and then I unbuckled my shoulder belt.
A dead moose lay in the ragweed ten feet from the road. It was a young bull, a little bigger than a Clydesdale, but with the long, knobby legs of a camel. It had a modest rack of antlers, five feet across or so, and a brownish red coat stuck all over with brambles and wisps of cattail fluff. Green flies buzzed loudly around its open mouth. Its tongue was hanging out like a gray inner organ it had half-expelled from its gut, and its drying eyeballs were coated with an abrasive layer of dust. At first glance, I couldn't see any obvious wounds or dried blood on the carcass. Nor were there any of the telltale signs of the fatal brainworm that often afflicts moose in Maine.
"What do you think?" Billy asked.
I crossed my bare arms, slick with SPF-45. "I'm thinking someone shot it last week during the hunt but didn't bring it down. It might have stumbled around for a few days — and wandered across the road onto Morse's property — before it bled out or the wound got infected. It's not unusual to find a gut-shot moose after the hunt."
"That's what I thought at first."
I squinted to get a better look at the moose's underbelly. "Or it could have gotten paunched by a bigger bull during the rut."
"I thought of that, too."
"But that's not what happened, is it?"
I crouched down beside the moose, scattering the winged insects that had come to lay their eggs in its mucous membranes. A faint odor — like crushed wet acorns — rose from its obscene tongue. I lifted one of the floppy ears and saw a cluster of blood-swollen ticks attached to the underside. During a bad year, like this one, a moose can play host to tens of thousands of parasitic ticks, not to mention the mosquitoes and other biting insects — no-see-ums, black flies, deerflies, and moose flies — that are its constant, lifelong companions. For the thousandth time, I reflected on how much it must suck to be a moose.
"Well, there's no smell of putrescence," I said, "and there are still ticks feeding on the blood, which means it hasn't been dead long enough for the blood to totally dry up. The birds and coyotes haven't been at it yet, either."
"It was alive last night," said Billy. "I drove by here to close the gate, and I would have seen it in my headlights."
"Do you think it might have been a poacher, and you scared him off, either last night or this morning? Before he could take the meat and head, I mean?"
"I guess that means you found something else."
Billy hitched his jeans up on his narrow hips and spat hard into the road. "Yep," he said.
We returned to our trucks and set off again. I had to roll up my window to keep from choking to death on the billowing dust. I put on my expensive new pair of Oakley sunglasses, hoping they would help against the glare, but they didn't.
Excerpted from Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron. Copyright © 2013 Paul Doiron. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mike Bodwitch, intrepid Maine game warden and protagonist, continues his pursuit of solving cases; despite, and sometime in spite of, interference from his superiors. Interference and/or opposition from superiors and/or agencies higher in the pecking order appears to have become cause de rigueur in the genre. This convention however, does not distract from the story. Not quite a page turner, but a story that keep the reader coming back, and when finished, waiting for the next book in the series. Out of five stars I’d rate it as three and one half.
This my first read in this series with Maine warden Mike Bowditch. The wardens appear to be a strange mix of wildlife warden and country policeman that don't have an equivalent in the UK making it difficult to relate to. I found it pleasantly refreshing for the hero / central character to be the lowest rank warden and not the sheriff or lieutenant. The storyline is is triggered by a wildlife massacre however this leads to other crimes to be investigated. Dealing with his own personal issues Bowditch has also to contend with being sidelined on the investigation of the crime he discovered. Not a bad book however not a riveting read either.
This author and his books are just a joy to read. I love Maine and animals and appreciate the fact they share their home with all of us. Sadly, it always amazes me how cruel humans can be to animals. We snowmobile every year in Maine in a lovely town called Rangeley . These books give me a look into other areas of Maine that I don't often see. Thank you to all the game wardens for the job they do- It's so important ( even when you stop us to check registrations) . Irene
I highly recommend the Mike Bowditch series by Mark Doiron! If you seek mystery and adventure and love the main character, who doesn't play by the rules, this series is for you.Bowditch is a game Warden in Maine, keeping an eye out for poachers and solving crimes. I'm reading the fourth in the series and have pre-ordered his newest book!
ok but alitte farfetched
A gray tom cat with HUGE FANGS jumps out of the shadows and claws at eyes. Frees lightkit. Run!