In this riveting new novel from Edgar finalist Paul Doiron, Bowditch joins a desperate search for two missing hikers as Maine wildlife officials deal with a frightening rash of coyote attacks.
When two female hikers disappear in the Hundred Mile Wilderness-the most remote stretch along the entire Appalachian Trail-Maine game warden Mike Bowditch joins the desperate search to find them.
Hope turns to despair after two unidentified corpses are discovered-their bones picked clean by coyotes. Do the bodies belong to the missing hikers? And were they killed by the increasingly aggressive wild dogs?
Soon, all of Maine is gripped with the fear of killer coyotes. But Bowditch has his doubts. His new girlfriend, wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, insists the scavengers are being wrongly blamed. She believes a murderer may be hiding in the offbeat community of hikers, hippies, and woodsmen at the edge of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. When Stacey herself disappears along the Appalachian Trail, the hunt for answers becomes personal.
Can Mike Bowditch find the woman he loves before the most dangerous animal in the North Woods strikes again?
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By Paul Doiron
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Paul Doiron
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I got the call about the lost hikers at the start of what was supposed to be a romantic weekend with my girlfriend.
Stacey Stevens and I had been dating for only four months and hadn't yet gone away together to the sort of place where a man takes a woman in the hope of impressing her. But I had rented a small, outrageously expensive cottage on Popham Beach, down at the mouth of the Kennebec River. There was a fisherman's co-op nearby where we could buy lobsters and clams to steam on the propane stove, and a fancy inn farther down the road where we could have a dress-up dinner if we got tired of cooking. The screen door of the cottage opened onto a sandy path that led through dune grass to a mile-long beach with views of Seguin Island in the hazy blue distance. I had visions of sunbathing and skinny-dipping.
Things hadn't started well. As I was carrying in the luggage, I was bitten on the arm by a greenhead. Then we discovered that the plumbing didn't work, and I had to wait for the property manager to come while Stacey took a book down to the beach to read.
"You sure you don't want me to wait with you?" she asked.
"No, you should go ahead. What are you reading, by the way?"
She held up a hardcover volume with the title Chronic Wasting Disease in White-Tailed Deer.
"I've heard it's a real page-turner," I said.
"Ha, ha, ha," she said with a smile. She put on her sunglasses and went barefoot down to the beach.
Stacey was a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the umbrella organization for the Warden Service. She lived and worked near the New Brunswick border, where I had once had a patrol district. Over the summer, I'd been transferred to Division A, near Sebago Lake, in the southern part of the state, which had turned our relationship into a long-distance affair before it had really even begun. It was now a five-hour drive for us, door to door, although Stacey happened to be a pilot and had borrowed her old man's floatplane to come visit me.
She was a couple of years older than I was, almost thirty, with hair the color of mahogany and eyes the lightest shade of green I'd ever seen. She had high cheekbones, which she'd inherited from her mother, and a strong jaw, which she'd gotten from her father. She was thin, but not in an unhealthy way, not to my eyes at least. Her natural expression seemed to be one of guarded suspicion, but on the rare occasions when she laughed, her whole body shook. It was as if she worked so hard at repressing her enthusiasm that it came out with the force of an earthquake. I wished I could hear her laugh more. Her parents were such cheerful and optimistic human beings, I knew that she must be one, too. If I worked hard enough at loving Stacey, I was certain she would open up in time.
Her father, Charley, was a retired Warden Service pilot who still volunteered whenever we needed another pair of eyes in the sky. He and his beautiful wife, Ora, had practically adopted me when I was a rookie warden in desperate need of personal and professional guidance.
I'd been infatuated with their youngest daughter from the moment we'd met, but she'd been engaged to another man, the heir to a multimillion-dollar lumbering concern. When I'd revealed that he was tangled up in some bad business, Stacey had called off the engagement. The experience had soured her on men in general and me in particular. Finally, in June, I had mustered up my confidence and asked her out, secretly believing I had no chance in the world. To my surprise, she'd said yes.
Four months later, I was still praying that she would recognize we were soul mates. Stacey Stevens was everything I had ever wanted in a woman. We both loved the woods, and we shared the same disregard for authority, especially when it came unearned. She was smart and capable and feisty as hell. But there seemed to be a chasm between us I could find no way across. The beach house was my best effort to bridge it, and already I could see that I might need a new plan. We'd driven separate vehicles to our romantic getaway, so we hadn't even had that carefree time in the car together.
When she returned from the beach an hour later, her skin was browner than before, she smelled pleasantly of coconut suntan lotion, and I was still waiting for the property manager to fix the pipes.
"How much is this place costing you for the weekend?" she asked.
"You don't want to know."
"I don't think you're getting your money's worth here, Bowditch. I hope you're not bankrupting yourself."
I half-smiled and looked at my bare feet.
"What?" she said.
"I have a confession to make. It's kind of embarrassing." I gulped down a mouthful of air to prepare myself. "I have a trust fund."
"My stepfather set it up for me after my mom died last year. I didn't want to take the money, but Kathy Frost convinced me. She said, 'You're such a Catholic martyr. Give half to charity if you're feeling so guilty about it.'"
"I'm going to guess which charity you gave it to. PeTA?"
"Very funny." Stacey and I were both hunters. "I gave it to the Wounded Warrior Project."
"Because of your friend who was wounded in Afghanistan?"
I didn't like to think about Jimmy Gammon, who had come home from war disfigured beyond recognition and in constant agony, or the way he had chosen to die. "The way this country treats its veterans is a disgrace."
She came over, grabbed the back of my head with both hands, and slipped her tongue into my ear. Her breath was hot against my neck. "Have I ever told you how sexy your righteous indignation is?"
I cocked an eyebrow. "Are you teasing me, Stacey?" "No, but I'm about to. Come with me."
That moment, as if on cue, the manager appeared at the screen door. He was a slow-moving and seemingly unapologetic character, and he banged around in the crawl space beneath the building for ten minutes before emerging with a wrench in his hand and a head wispy with spiderwebs.
"You're all set here," he said in a heavy Maine accent.
"So how about knocking a couple hundred dollars off the rent for the inconvenience?" said Stacey.
"Do you want me to leave the wrench?" the man replied.
"I'm serious, champ," she said. "How about a discount?"
"Enjoy your stay."
"Gotta love the customer service in this place," Stacey said with a full-body laugh after the manager had driven off in his minivan. "Now, where were we?"
She took my hand and pulled me into the little bedroom. It was wallpapered in seashell patterns and painted in soft beach colors.
I sat down on the mattress, and the springs made a rusty, complaining sound. "At least the bed isn't broken."
She tugged her T-shirt over her shoulders and head. "Not yet," she said.
* * *
The first time Stacey and I had slept together was the most intense sexual experience I'd ever had. The second time was even more exciting. By this point in our relationship, however, I'd begun to realize that our physical intimacy was fast outpacing our emotional intimacy.
I tried to make a joke out of it as we lay together now, listening to the pounding waves through the open window.
"You know, Stacey, sometimes I wonder if you're just using me for sex."
She ran a hand through my crew cut. "Oh, poor you."
"I'm not complaining!"
"You'd be the first man in history who ever did, Bowditch."
Before I could say another word, she slid off the mattress and disappeared into the shower.
I lay on my back, watching the breeze ruffle the thin cotton curtain. The midday sun angled in through the window and touched my groin and bare legs with its warmth. I could taste the salt air on my lips.
I was so positive that she was the love of my life, that the two of us were meant to be together, and yet she seemed content that we remain intimate strangers. Even her playful habit of calling me by my last name seemed like an attempt to hold me at bay.
My cell phone rang in the living room. I grabbed my jeans from the floor and pulled them on.
It was my new sergeant, Jason Ouellette, apologizing for interrupting my weekend. He said that two hikers had gone missing on the Appalachian Trail and asked if I could make myself available to assist with the search. The Hundred Mile Wilderness was a solid three hours' drive north of Popham Beach, in the remote Moosehead Lake region. While it wasn't unusual for wardens to be summoned to far-flung locales, the sergeant's request suggested a need for extra manpower that went well beyond the ordinary.
I heard the shower stop in the bathroom and felt a pang, not so much at the thought of losing hundreds of dollars on the beach-house rental as for the missed opportunity to make inroads with Stacey.
"Can you come?" asked Ouellete.
"Of course," I said.
Stacey stepped out of the bathroom with a terry-cloth towel wrapped around her body. I signed off with the sergeant and tucked the phone in the back pocket of my jeans.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Two women disappeared in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. They're thru-hiking the AT, and they were supposed to talk to their parents in Georgia three days ago. It doesn't sound good."
Some of the color seemed to drain from Stacey's suntanned face and she sat down, almost as if her legs had given way, on the edge of the pale sofa.
"They just graduated from Pentecost University," I said. "Have you heard of it? I never have."
"It's a Christian school down south. How old are they?"
"Twenty-one and twenty-two."
Her hair was dripping in her face, but her almond-shaped eyes had glazed over, as if she had fallen into a trance.
"What is it?" I asked. "Are you OK?"
"I was twenty-one when we hiked the Long Trail in Vermont, my friends and me."
I had a feeling that she was referring to the three women I'd met earlier that spring in the village of Grand Lake Stream, including her former girlfriend, Kendra. "Did something happen to you?"
Her pupils tightened into focus, but she still seemed shaken. "No."
"Then what is it?"
"We met some creepy men that week. But there were four of us. I can't imagine what would have happened if it had just been me and Kendra."
Stacey was a pilot and a scuba diver, a crack shot with a rifle or a pistol, and she could track the blood trail of a dying moose through an impenetrable swamp. As a wildlife biologist, she went alone into all sorts of dark places, and it had never occurred to me to worry about her. But her wavering tone made me wonder if something bad really had happened to her on the Long Trail and that for some reason she was unwilling to admit it. The thought that she might be keeping a secret troubled me.
"I don't have to volunteer for this," I said. "I can stay here with you."
She frowned, as if I'd just uttered some drunken nonsense. "You have to go, and you know it."
I glanced at our luggage, which was sitting where we'd left it beside the door. At least we hadn't unpacked. "I've already paid for the cottage. You can stay if you want."
"Not while those girls are missing."
"Maybe they'll show up tonight and I'll be able to turn right around and come back here."
She pushed the wet strands of hair out of her eyes and stood up, clutching the towel tightly above her breasts so it wouldn't drop. She returned to the bedroom without meeting my gaze again.
"I wouldn't bet on it," she said, her voice hard with certainty.CHAPTER 2
About five hundred people are reported missing in Maine each year. Most of them are found somewhere between twenty-four and forty-eight hours later. The Bible students — as the media ended up referring to them — had been missing for nearly two weeks when we got the call.
Two weeks. Too late.
Those four words were running in a loop in my head as I adjusted the sweaty straps on my canvas rucksack and looked up the forested mountainside at the rapidly receding back of my search partner — an improbably able-bodied volunteer whom I'd met earlier that afternoon at the command post. The two of us had driven in my patrol truck from the North Woods village of Monson to a distant logging road where we could intersect the trail closer to the midsection of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Despite my best efforts at making conversation, he'd barely spoken a word to me on the hour-long drive, preferring to stare out the window at the blur of green trees through which we were traveling.
I assumed my youthful athleticism was why I'd been assigned the legendary Bob "Nonstop" Nissen and sent to check the remote Chairback Gap lean-to for signs the women might have stopped there. But as soon as the two of us had set off on the access trail to the shelter, I knew this middle-aged man was going to kick my ass. He was well past fifty, but he could scramble up a sheer cliff like a Barbary ape. Most wilderness rescue volunteers use trekking poles, or even climbing axes, to steady themselves, but Nissen preferred to use his big calloused hands to pull himself up the mountain, going on four limbs at times. He had skin so sun-browned, it seemed to be turning to leather; and he was wearing safari shorts, which showed off calf muscles the size of grapefruits. His climbing boots were made by La Sportiva, one of the best and most expensive brands in the world, which told me a lot about the man's priorities.
Now I watched him disappear around a clump of lichen-crusted boulders.
Since we'd started climbing an hour earlier, Nissen hadn't so much as glanced back in my direction. He seemed to view our assignment less as a search-and-rescue mission and more as a personal competition. His sole purpose seemed to be getting to the top of Chairback before me.
Back in Monson, while we were packing our supplies, the officer in charge had told me how Nissen had gotten his unusual nickname. For more than two decades, he'd held the record for the fastest "unsupported" thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail — sixty-one days from south to north, carrying his own supplies, without the assistance of another human being. He'd recently lost his title to a young trail runner from Virginia, but I could easily imagine Nonstop coming out of retirement to regain his former glory.
Perspiration had soaked the brim of my black duty cap and was now streaming freely into the corners of my eyes. I'd left my olive green ballistic vest and button-down shirt back at the truck. I was now dressed in green cargo pants and a black T-shirt with the words GAME WARDEN printed on the back. In place of the L.L. Bean hunting shoes I normally wore, I'd put on a pair of Danner climbing boots. I'd even locked my SIG Sauer .357 pistol in the glove compartment. It felt unsettling to be in the wild unarmed.
The skies were gray and darker in the west; the forecast called for late-afternoon thunderstorms. The hot, humid air surrounded me like a damp towel thrown over my head. The September woods were still lush and green on certain north-facing hillsides but sunburned and dry as kindling in other places. Both the thermometer and the calendar indicated that this was a summer day, but I had noticed a swamp maple glowing red in one of the wet ravines — a harbinger of autumn soon to come. A broad-winged hawk soared high above the treetops, crying its thin cry. The raptors had begun their southbound migration.
Stacey teased me about being a "compulsive noticer." I was like a cat, she said, easily distracted by every crawling bug and fluttering leaf. What could I do? It was who I was. And I thought it made me good at my job.
Five hours earlier, I'd been relaxing in bed beside her, feeling the cool sea air on my skin and listening to the rhythmic crashing of the waves. Now here I was in the sweltering mountains, trying to keep pace with a freak of nature. As much as I loved the forest, the appeal of mountain climbing for its own sake had always eluded me. I could understand why some people — especially those who lived in cities or suburbs — might feel the urge to hike the Appalachian Trail, but for someone who essentially lived in the Maine woods, as I did, there was no need to embark on a two-thousand-mile journey to commune with nature.
On the drive up, I'd kept picturing the dazed look in Stacey's eyes when she'd told me about hiking Vermont's Long Trail with her friends. I was more and more certain that she was withholding something from me about that experience. She'd mentioned meeting "creepy men" in the woods. God knows, there are plenty of them out here, I thought. My search partner among them.
When I had finally worked my way around the clump of boulders, I was surprised to find Nissen seated on a log, waiting for me. He had taken off his shirt, displaying a brown torso so venous and devoid of fat that it looked like a textbook illustration for the human circulatory system. There was a small crucifix tattooed in green ink between his pectoral muscles. And he was eating a banana that he had removed from the fanny pack he wore slung around his narrow hips.
"You hanging in there?" he asked with an expression that didn't seem overly concerned with my answer.
Excerpted from The Precipice by Paul Doiron. Copyright © 2015 Paul Doiron. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By far Paul Dorion ' best book. I was there o the Appalachian Trail in 1985. Truly the best outdoor mystery ever! Scary, suspense, deep, incredible and exciting to read. Wow! What a good book !
The best book in this series! Missing hikers on the Appalachian Trail starts this fast moving, frightening story. Mike Bowditch is back in full Warden mode in this gripping adventure in the Maine forests. The author's poetic descriptions of the lush woodlands and treacherously beautiful waterfalls serves in counterpoint to the serial killer whom no one wants to acknowledge, preferring to blame the events on killer coyotes. A great read....
***NOTE: I listened to the Audiobook, and I won my copy in a Goodreads First to Read Giveaway*** Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden along the Appalachian Trail. When two young female hikers go missing, Mike and his girlfriend, wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, join in the search. Once the bodies are found with teeth marks on the bones, the locals fear they may have been killed by coyotes. Stacey is sure that they weren't, and both she and Mike continue investigating, determined to find the truth of what happened to the two young women. This was a well-written thriller, with believable characters and an interesting locale. The narrator did a nice job keeping his Maine accent where needed, without being over the top or distracting. I didn't realize when I first started listening that this was book #6, but it was easy enough to figure out from the frequent references to Mike's past that it wasn't the beginning of a series. The book worked fine as a standalone novel, but I think I would have liked it even more had I read some of the earlier novels first. I will probably read more in this series, but I will start back at the beginning so I can watch Mike grow up into the man he is in this novel.
The Precipice by Paul Doiron is the sixth book in the Mike Bowditch mystery series. Mike is a game warden in Maine. He is young and impetuous but trying hard now in this sixth book to conform and follow the rules. I just adore this series. As with the earlier books, I could not put The Precipice down. I was riveted by author Doiron's words and the unfolding story. I love Maine and the setting was what first attracted me to this series. Doiron, a resident of Maine, brilliantly captures the essence and beauty of the isolated state. My husband's Quebecois father has 17 brothers and sisters, about half of whom emigrated to Maine. They were lumberjacks in the woods of Maine. My husband briefly lived there as a child. We rode through the area - Greenville, Monson, Guilford and Dover-Foxcroft - when we were visiting his family in the Skowhegen area. As we rode through the forests I imagined my husband's uncles working as lumberjacks there. I wasn't really familiar with the Appalachian Trail at the time but learned about it in North Georgia at Neel's Gap which is a rest stop for the trail a few years back. Now I am completely fascinated by it and was so eager to read this book! Fascinated enough to hike it someday...never say never. It did not disappoint. I am sorry I've finished reading it. As with the earlier Bowditch novels, we follow Mike as he traverses his personal and professional lives. His friend Charley's daughter Stacey figures prominently in the novel. He's figured out that she is the one but she hasn't yet! Having seen the thru-hikers at Neel's Gap (and thinking they all looked and smelled like they were homeless until I found out what was going on) I could easily picture the hikers in this novel. The Precipice is filled with fascinating characters. Doiron has captured the people of Maine and the hikers perfectly. As a reader, we are engaged right from the start. The story follows the hunt for two young women who have disappeared while hiking the trail in one of the toughest parts, the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. Were they being hunted by coyotes? Or by a man? Stacey, a biologist believes that the coyotes would have scavenged the bodies but never killed them. Why is everyone so eager to accept that coyotes are killers? And who are these Dow's? Everyone is terrified of this horrific family. Did they play a role in the fate of the missing young women? I was kept guessing until the end...everyone was a suspect in my eyes at one time or another. I highly recommend this entire series. The Precipice can be read as a stand-alone if you have not read the earlier books. It is a great read. The Precipice is one of the best mystery-thrillers I've read this year.