Interview: Paul Doiron and 'The Poacher's Son'
A debut novelist the harsh Maine woods, crime and flawed heroes
Everybody talks about the weather, but not many mystery novelists actually write about it. Paul Doiron does. His debut novel, "The Poacher's Son," out this month from Minotaur Books, is set in the great outdoors.
Doiron is editor-in-chief of Down East, the magazine devoted to Maine, where "The Poacher's Son" takes place. Readers meet Mike Bowditch, a young game warden who has a tendency to make rash decisions, especially when it comes to his personal life (we've all been there). Mike's disreputable poacher father is accused of murdering a cop and an executive at a timber company. Mike tries to prove his father's innocence, and along the way, to prove himself the man he wants to be, not only to his incorrigible father, but to himself.
Doiron, in between his duties editing his magazine and writing his next novel, sat down with Bob Hughes to talk about the writing life, crime in Maine, the changing wilderness and the warden service.
Criminal Element - Your novel has a vivid sense of the outdoors, and the life of a game warden. Have you ever worked as a game warden yourself?
Paul Doiron - I have worked as a Registered Maine Guide. I do have my license to lead trips, but I'm not a game warden. With guides and game wardens, there are different areas of specialization – general recreation, camping, fishing. My specialty is fly fishing.
- There've been other mystery novelists who've used the outdoors, and the life of a game warden, as the settings for their works. One of the best known is C.J. Box, whose novels feature a Wyoming game warden. Are there similarities between what you're doing?
- Definitely. But being a game warden in Wyoming is very different from being a game warden in the state of Maine. It's been interesting to read his books and see the differences. There are some things that are the same - catching poachers, and checking people's fishing licenses and all those mundane sort of tasks. But in Maine, game wardens really are policeman. The way I describe it, their beat is the forest. In fact, one of the great controversies in Maine is that the warden service, always underfunded, has been asked to take on more responsibility for investigating more and more crimes that have nothing to do with fish and wildlife. Part of the issue that wardens face now is that
people do live closer to nature. In Maine we have these exurban communities where people are living farther and farther away from urban centers, and so you begin to have issues with wildlife. People aren't prepared for those sorts of things.
CE - "The Poacher's Son" has a bear that's wandered too close to some people's homes.
Doiron - Yes. The bear incident was one of the inspirations for the novel.
CE - How did the character of your narrator, Mike Bowditch, come about? He's certainly one of the more flawed heroes of recent crime fiction, trying to discover himself, find his path.
- This is the thing that interested me. I've read a lot of detective fiction, and typically the protagonists are fully formed individuals from the start. When we meet Philip Marlow, he's already Philip Marlow, he's already a self-sufficient cynical tough man. I wanted to write about how somebody becomes a heroic individual, especially if they come from difficult circumstances. I conceived of an idea of writing the series so that with each book, Mike gets one year older, so we're going to follow him through a maturing process.
CE - "The Poacher's Son" also deals with what is happening with the land, and the people who live on it. It's about changing economics and fear.
- Maine has seen a radical transformation over the last 15 years. I've had a front row seat to that through my job. Something like six million acres of North Maine woods have changed hands. It used to be largely owned by paper companies, many with headquarters in Maine, who had a custodial relationship to the North Woods. They were there for the long term and treated their employees well. That's all changed. The major landowners are investment companies, banks, university trusts, and a lot of these companies are in it for the short term.
CE - What's the next novel about? Considering what Mike does in the first.
- Mike is dealing with how what he's done in the first book has affected his career. Guilt. What really interests me is the psychology of these characters. The next book takes place the following March. What game wardens do varies from month to month. Each book will take place in a different month of the season. March is mud season in Maine, a disgusting time of year where ice is melting and people begin taking their all-terrain vehicles and tearing up other people's land. A lousy time to be in Maine.