In Paul Doiron's riveting novel Widowmaker, Game Warden Mike Bowditch is on the trail of a ruthless vigilante amid the snow-covered mountains of Maine
When a mysterious woman in distress appears outside his home, Mike Bowditch has no clue she is about to blow his world apart. Amber Langstrom is beautiful, damaged, and hiding a secret with a link to his past. She claims her son Adam is a wrongfully convicted sex offender who has vanished from a brutal work camp in the high timber around the Widowmaker Ski Resort. She also claims that Adam is the illegitimate son of Jack Bowditch, Mike’s dead and diabolical fatherand the half-brother Mike never knew he had.
After trying so hard to put his troubled past behind him, Mike is reluctant to revisit the wild country of his childhood and again confront his father’s history of violence. But Amber’s desperation and his own need to know the truth leads Mike on a desperate search for answersone that takes him through a mountainous wilderness where the military guards a top-secret interrogation base, sexual predators live together in a backwoods colony, and self-styled vigilantes are willing to murder anyone they consider their enemies. Can Mike finally exorcise the demons of the pastor will the real-life demons of the present kill him first?
This program features an exclusive interview between Paul Doiron & Nevada Barr.
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 © 2016 Paul Doiron
All rights reserved.
On my first day as a cadet at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, the instructors showed my class the most disturbing video I had ever seen. It was a montage of real-life footage — most of it taken during routine traffic stops — of police officers who had been ambushed in the line of duty. We saw cops being run over, cops being wrestled to the ground by multiple assailants, cops having their service weapons stripped from their hands and used to kill them.
"You only need to get careless once," our instructor told us. As if we needed to be told.
Five years had passed since I'd seen that video; I was no longer a twenty-three-year-old cadet, no longer a rookie, and yet those horrible images still made regular appearances in my nightmares. Every time I went on patrol, without exception, I would hear my instructor's warning in my head, and I would wonder if this was the day that some seemingly harmless stranger would smile at me through a window and then shoot me in the face.
I might have called myself paranoid if I hadn't watched those cops being murdered.
* * *
I had just taken off my gun belt and put a pot of venison stew on the stove to reheat when I glanced out the window and saw the Jeep parked across the road. It was late afternoon in mid-January and already getting dark, but I saw a flicker inside the vehicle that told me someone was lighting a cigarette.
I was all alone in the house.
Earlier that week, I had said good-bye to my girlfriend, Stacey, a wildlife biologist who was headed north to study why moose were dying off in record numbers across the state and what could be done to save them.
My nearest neighbors lived a quarter mile away through the woods in either direction.
So what reason would someone have for stopping here?
The state of Maine doesn't give out the home addresses of its game wardens, but the location of my rented house was common knowledge around Sebago Lake, especially among the resident poachers, petty criminals, and pill fiends. Hard as it was for me to believe, I had been stationed in the greater Portland area for nearly a year and a half now, more than enough time to make enemies, and I already had a long list of them from my years on the Midcoast and Down East. I could think of plenty of people I wouldn't have wanted to show up, unannounced and uninvited, on my doorstep.
I strapped on my gun belt again.
Without stopping to grab a parka or hat, I made my way through the kitchen to the back door and out into the frozen yard. The motion-sensitive lights snapped on, revealing my government-issue boat, canoe, and Jet Ski: all the tools of my summer trade stowed beneath cold-stiffened tarps. The people who were renting me the house had also left behind a jungle gym, for which Stacey and I had no use.
I circled through the leafless woods that surrounded the property, my feet punching postholes through the surface crust, and came out onto the road, downwind of the Jeep. There was a bite in the air that made me think more snow was on the way, even though none had been forecast. Even from fifty feet away, I could smell the cigarette.
The Jeep was a lipstick-red Grand Cherokee, neither old nor new, with a Maine plate and a ski rack on top. The shadows made it hard to see through the windows, but I thought there might be just a single person inside. I removed my flashlight from its holster and did my best to stay out of the rearview mirror as I came up behind the parked vehicle.
I rapped hard on the glass and shined the beam of my SureFire straight into the driver's face.
"Christ!" she said, jumping in her seat.
She was a middle-aged woman with wavy blond hair and blue eyes that were probably beautiful when they weren't stung with smoke and rimmed red from crying. She was wearing a white puff vest over a denim shirt that matched her eyes. My first thought was that she was stunning; my second was that I had never seen her before in my life.
In my hardest voice, I said, "Game warden. Can you roll down the window, please."
She had to turn the key in the ignition to get the glass down, and for an instant, I thought she might peel out of there. Instead, she released a cloud of smoke through the cracked window. I wondered why she even bothered wearing perfume if she was going to cure her skin with tobacco fumes.
She turned off the engine. "Is there — is there a problem?"
I moved the light from her face, flashing it around the interior of the Jeep. She had been using a Diet Coke can as an ashtray. Her purse was on the seat beside her. I saw a ski jacket thrown carelessly in the backseat. But no open containers of alcohol, no rifles mounted in a rack, nothing suspicious or illegal.
"Do you mind showing me your license and registration?" My breath steamed, as if I, too, had been smoking.
"What did I do? Did I do something wrong?" She had a jittery way of speaking, as if there was too much caffeine and nicotine in her bloodstream.
The law actually didn't require her to show me any identification, but I wasn't going to tell her that. I wanted to know who this strange woman was parked outside my house.
After a moment of hesitation, she reached for her pocketbook and pulled out a wallet. She looked even more attractive in the picture on her driver's license than she did in the flesh. Her name was Amber M. Langstrom, she was forty-eight years old, and she lived in Bigelow, which was a ski town up north, not far from where I had spent the first nine years of my life, back before my parents divorced.
"I saw you parked out here," I said, turning the light back on her, "and I wanted to see if you were all right."
"I just pulled over to make a call," she said.
"It's a dangerous place for that. This is kind of a narrow road — especially with these snowbanks — and a car coming around the bend wouldn't have much time to avoid hitting you."
She shut one eye. "Can you turn off that light, please? I can't quite —"
I pointed the beam at the ground. "Is that better?'
"Yes. Thank you." She blinked a few times to clear the spots away and then brought her face close to the window. She seemed to be squinting to read the name tag on my uniform.
"It says Bowditch," I told her.
Her lips parted and she gave the faintest nod. Then she laughed for no reason I could understand.
"Are you sure everything is all right?" I asked.
"Well, actually —"
"The real reason I stopped is I'm lost and — this is so embarrassing — I've been driving around looking for a place to pee. There are no gas stations or McDonald's anywhere." She leaned her forearms against the wheel and smiled wide enough for me to see she was missing a molar. "I don't suppose — I don't suppose you live in that house?"
I felt my hand twitch in the direction of the .357 on my hip.
"If it's not too much trouble, I just wondered — could I use your bathroom?" she asked, with an extra tremble in her voice. "This is so embarrassing, but I drank too much soda, and I really, really, really have to pee."
"Can you excuse me a minute?" I said.
I retreated back to her rear bumper and took out my cell phone. I hit the auto dial for the state police dispatcher and recited the plate number and driver's license information.
The answer came back: "No outstanding warrants. No convictions. Record's clean."
"Is everything all right there, Mike?" the dispatcher asked.
"I'll let you know."
I could see Amber watching me in her side mirror as I approached her open window.
I brought the flashlight beam back to her face. "What are you really doing here, Ms. Langstrom?"
"Your first name is Mike, right? Mike Bowditch?" She smiled quickly, then bit down on her lower lip. The expression was supposed to be friendly, flirtatious. She had a small tattoo of a butterfly, the size of a gem, at the base of her throat.
A breeze lifted the hairs on my scalp. I kept my right hand by my hip.
She smiled harder. "I have a confession to make. I've been sitting here trying to get up the courage to knock on your door, and then you just — you just came out of nowhere like a ghost or something. The thing is, I needed to see you, and the Warden Service wouldn't tell me where you lived. I asked Gary Pulsifer, and he said it was somewhere near Sebago, but he wouldn't give me your home address. I had to ask around at some of the bars near the lake."
Pulsifer was the longtime district warden for the Rangeley Lakes region. He and I had a complicated acquaintance that was sometimes cordial, other times close to adversarial. Gary was known in the service for having a uniquely perverse sense of humor. But I had a hard time believing he would have sicced a stalker on me, even one as attractive as Amber Langstrom.
"Why have you been looking for me?" I asked.
"Can we go inside?" she said. "It's freezing out here, and it's kind of — well, it's kind of a long story. And I wasn't lying about having to pee."
I gazed into her eyes, but I didn't know what I should be looking for. If she was truly dangerous — truly a threat to my life — what would be the tip-off?
"Not until you tell me what you're doing here," I said.
"It's about your father."
The breeze lifted the hairs on my scalp again. "My father?"
"It's about Jack."
I wasn't sure what I had been expecting her to say, but it wasn't that.
"My father is dead."
"I know," Amber said, and her voice trembled again. "That's why I'm here."CHAPTER 2
Five years earlier, my father had been the most notorious criminal in Maine: a legendary poacher turned cop killer and fugitive. Needless to say, he was more than that to me; everything I was, for better or worse, I owed to him. I had lived my entire life in the shadow of his reputation, and that shadow had only grown longer and colder in the aftermath of his death. Over the past half decade, I had struggled to separate myself from the man and his crimes, successfully for the most part. In my mind, at least, I had buried Jack Bowditch once and for all.
Which was why the mention of his name now was like the sudden emergence of a repressed memory.
"Come inside," I told Amber Langstrom.
She gathered up her ski jacket and purse and climbed down out of the Jeep. She was shorter than she had looked behind the wheel and thin in the way many smokers are unnaturally thin. I watched her dance around a patch of black ice and thought that in bars, out of the light, she must have been frequently mistaken for a woman in her twenties.
She stomped her boots on the woven mat inside the door to loosen the snow from the treads.
"Bathroom's down the hall on the right," I said.
I heard the lock click on the door and began to wonder why — despite all my training and better instincts — I had just let a stranger into my house. It had to be more than her having mentioned my dead father.
I have always had a foolhardy streak. I used to mistake it for bravery until it nearly got me killed for the umpteenth time. Then I saw it for what it was: a chronic addiction to adrenaline. My body craved danger the way a junkie does his next hit of heroin. I wondered how many of the dead cops in that video had suffered from the same weakness.
My girlfriend had only been gone a few days, and already the house was a mess: boot prints on the carpet, coats fallen from the rack in the hall, dirty plates on every tabletop. Stacey and I didn't live together — we hadn't yet taken that step in our relationship — but her irregular visits gave me the incentive to keep the place somewhat clean. I might have forgotten and left up my Christmas decorations all winter if she hadn't pointed out the brittle fir boughs over the mantelpiece.
"How can a man who is so curious that he notices everything not notice his house is a tinderbox?" Stacey had said, her long brown hair shaking as she laughed.
When Amber came out of the bathroom, I made sure to be standing to the side of the door with my hand resting on the butt of my SIG Sauer.
She gave me a nervous smile. "Oh, there you are."
I hadn't yet had a chance to stoke the fire in the woodstove; the house felt unnaturally cold. I motioned to the living room. "Have a seat."
Under the brightness of the overhead bulb, Amber had become middle-aged again. There were faint creases around her mouth and bags beneath her eyes. She was overdue for a visit to the hair salon. Her gray roots had begun to show. She sat with her knees pressed together, her jacket folded over her thighs, clutching her purse.
I remained standing with my back to the wall.
"You look so much like your dad," she said, gazing up at me. "It's a little spooky." She smiled briefly again and glanced around the room, taking in the cold woodstove, the fish mounts on the wall, the overloaded bookcases. "You have a lovely house. Do you live here alone?"
I made a vague throat-clearing noise and shifted my weight from one foot to the other.
She seemed to get the point. "So, I guess I should explain what I'm doing here."
"I would appreciate it."
She inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth, as if performing a yoga exercise. "I knew your father. He used to come into the bar where I work. Well, he used to come in until he got banned for breaking a guy's arm. It was a different bar back then, the Red Stallion in Carrabassett. It's been closed a long time. I'm over at the Sluiceway now up Widowmaker."
It was a ski resort near Rangeley. My father had worked there briefly, long ago, driving one of the snowcats.
"Anyway," she continued, "I heard about what happened with Jack. I mean, who didn't hear about it? All that horrible stuff up at Rum Pond. It was just — just unbelievable."
"My father was a bad man," I said simply.
"No, he wasn't!" Without fully rising, she started to lift herself from the sofa, eyes widening with disbelief, then sat back down again. "Jack had a good heart. He was just so troubled." Her bloodshot eyes filled with tears again. "You don't really believe that he was bad. Why did you try to help him if you thought he was some sort of monster?"
I had puzzled over that same question for years, but I had no intention of baring my own troubled psyche to this unhinged woman.
Her smoky perfume hung heavily in the air.
"Ms. Langstrom ..."
"I don't mean to be rude," I said. "But you really need to tell me what you're doing here."
"Of course. I'm sorry." She opened her purse and removed a photograph, which she held out for me to take. "This is my son, Adam."
It was a picture of a rugged-looking young man, probably no older than eighteen. He had the wavy brown hair of a Kennedy and piercing blue eyes set off by a skier's tan. The photo had been taken outside against a white mountain backdrop so beautiful, it looked fake.
"He's a handsome kid," I said, not knowing what else to say. I tried to return the picture, but she refused to take it.
"He doesn't look like this anymore," she said sadly. "He's been through so much. Anyway, the reason I'm here —" She took another yoga breath. "I'm hoping you can find him for me."
"I don't understand."
"Adam is missing."
"Have you spoken to the police?"
"You don't understand," she said. "The situation is — it's not that simple."
I had a feeling that I would regret my next sentence. "Then explain it to me."
"Three years ago, Adam was a senior at the Alpine Sports Academy outside Rangeley. Do you know it?"
"It's a high school for skiers," I said, hoping to hurry her along, "like Carrabassett Valley Academy."
"I wish he'd gone to CVA!" Her eyes welled up again and she dabbed at them with a wad of tissue from her purse. "But ASA offered him a scholarship. The school pays for a few local kids to go there — kids with athletic potential — everyone else is rich. And he did so well, too. I mean, his grades were never the best, but he was the best racer in his class. He had a shot at making the U.S. Ski Team and maybe even going to the Olympics."
I was still struggling to understand what any of this had to do with me. "So what happened to him?"
"Senior year, he met a girl from Vail. Her name was Alexa Davidson. She was a freshman."
From the way she spit out that last word, I suspected I knew what was coming next. "How old was she?"
"She was fourteen, although she looked and acted a lot older than that."
"And how old was Adam?"
"He was seventeen for most of the semester."
I set the photo on the table between us, facedown. "And then he turned eighteen. And someone found out he and Alexa were having sex?"
"The parents demanded that the school investigate. It would have been bad enough if they'd just expelled him, and taken away his dreams of skiing professionally, but the fucking headmaster decided to bring in the police."
"And they arrested Adam for statutory rape," I said.
"They totally set him up to make it look worse than it was." Her hair fell around her face. She pushed the strands away violently. "I had to sell my condo to pay for the lawyer — thirty thousand dollars — and all he did was lose the case. Adam still ended up going to jail. They were both just kids!"
Excerpted from Widowmaker by Paul Doiron. Copyright © 2016 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
Very good read
A worthy addition to this series. Bowditch is a complicated and interesting 'hero' for these thrillers. Looking forward to the next one.
I have read every book Doiron has written. Mike Bowditch is a Game Warden who loves his job, does it well but often goes beyond the rules and mires himself in circumstances that endanger himself and others. He had a terrible childhood and youth that dogs him through his entire career. Widowmaker spotlights Mike's love of nature, wildlife and his dedication to the warden work which goes beyond that of many more experienced colleagues content with the status quo. People who have lived or visited in remote near wilderness country will appreciate Widowmaker and all of the Doiron books and can easily relate to the events. A suggestion- once you've read Widowmaker read the other six books in the sequence that they were written to gain a bigger picture of the Mike Bowditch character.
Read this in 2days, instantly ordered everthing else this author has written. Highly recommend. Warning: be prepared to lose sleep turning pages till the end!!!!!
keep this going . Great book
Paul Doiron's books always make me feel as if I have been deposited deep into depths of the pages, and I finish shaking my head and trying to come back to my real life. Mike Bowditch's adventures are always so trouble-ridden that you almost don't believe it could happen, but there are a lot of situations in life that pile up and make you feel that way. "Widowmaker" is quite a story, and again I am left feeling disoriented in my real world. I also fully believe that Mike Bowditch might possibly be growing up into his own shoes.
A very good read.