Paul Doiron – “Trespasser”

Paul Doiron warned us in “The Poacher’s Son” that Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is not a happy camper. We learned in the debut mystery that sadness is a “perpetual condition” for Bowditch.

Bowditch doesn’t de-gloom in “Trespasser.”

He’s still a brooder. There’s a “gnawing uncertainty” to his world. He hasn’t quite settled into his place in town, his place in the community, in his relationship, his workplace. With himself. He’s prone to impulsive decisions and knocking back a few whiskeys to drown his sorrows. He’s going through counseling and he’s visited with a psychologist. He ignores good advice, goes his own way. He adores his school teacher girlfriend but doesn’t treat her well.

Throughout “Trespasser,” I wanted to slip him some happy pills and give him a lesson in how to lighten up.  But he understands his job: “Ultimately, my job wasn’t about animals at all. It was about people—and the cruelties they will commit when no one is watching.”

Anytime you have a non-cop protagonist around a murder investigation, the trick is how do you keep the non-ahead of the cops? How can he outwit the work of the official investigators and figure things out before they do?  And keep the plot credible?

Not only does Bowditch discover several bodies in the course of “Trespasser,” he’s right there at key moments to debrief the right people and glean key bits of information. A bit too convenient? Maybe.

Much of “Trespasser” revolves around a years-old murder investigation and this allows Bowditch to dive back through an old case—with few looking over his shoulder—and look for similarities and conflicts with the central crime that propels the story along.  Bowditch plunges through 1,334 pages of the trial transcript of the old case and picks up a trail of inconsistencies and then goes back to the scene where the earlier “culprit” was apprehended only to find….okay, no need to put in a spoiler alert alarm.

It turns out the years-old crime has a passionate cult of followers who believe the wrong guy is in prison.  This troupe includes some surprising characters who play a critical role in keeping Bowditch on track and fired-up, making for some good twists at the end.

I assume the “Trespasser” is Bowditch, working in the cop’s world and showing them a thing or two. Doiron does a good job of giving Bowditch an edge and a reason to be a few steps ahead of the official investigation.  I just wish I felt more compelled to get in his corner and root for his cause. Bowditch is chased by demons and I stopped caring, after awhile, because he didn’t seem like he wanted to help himself.

Next time out, I wouldn’t mind if Bowditch found a way to dump the dark clouds and just bear down on human cruelties, no brooding involved.

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