Written by Paul Doiron — When winter slowly turns into spring in Maine, they call it Mud Season. It is both a curse and a blessing. Clothes, cars, sidewalks and driveways are covered in the stuff, but at least summer cannot be too far away. Amid the mud Game Warden Mike Bowditch tries to track down some joyriders who have been vandalising a neighbour’s property, but he is called to what appears to be a routine collision between a car and a deer on a remote forest road. When he gets there, he finds blood – plenty of it – and the wrecked car, but no sign of either the driver or the animal. Something about the scene disturbs Bowditch, but he is told by the police to leave it to them.
The next evening, he discovers that the crashed car was a rental, and was being driven by a young Asian-American research student called Ashley Kim. She was working with a distinguished professor, Hans Westergaard, who just happens to own a summer property only a few miles from the mysterious crash site. Bowditch and his old mentor, retired warden Charley Stevens, cannot resist the temptation to go out to the property and investigate. What they find there sets in motion a train of violence and death which has echoes of a notorious murder case seven years before.
Back then, a local waitress was found murdered in the woods, savagely raped and mutilated. After a controversial arrest and trial, fisherman Erland Jefferts was convicted of the murder, and sentenced to life in jail. When Bowditch and Stevens force their way into the Westergaard house, they find the body of Ashley Kim, and she has been butchered in an identical manner to Nikki Donnatelli, seven years earlier.
When Jefferts was jailed, there was widespread concern that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and that the police and state prosecutors had stitched a case together on a mixture of circumstantial evidence and flawed medical reports. A vociferous and energetic group of campaigners, calling themselves the J-Team, have been working hard to secure a retrial for Jefferts. Now, with another murder, identical down to the smallest detail, and with Jefferts having the strongest alibi of all, Bowditch finds himself caught up in a messy power struggle between the J-Team and the law enforcers who put Jefferts inside. People are lying, and people are dying, and in the same way that the receding snow uncovers a nasty trail of litter and winter debris, Bowditch’s investigations reveal some dark truths about his isolated community.
Unfortunately, Mike Bowditch himself left me slightly ambivalent. He blunders about the countryside putting himself into harm’s way, behaves very selfishly towards his colleagues and his completely admirable girlfriend, and generally comes across as something of a pain. We are told about his turbulent and damaged background, and so maybe his erratic behaviour is a result of this past trauma.
However, Trespasser as a whole works well on several levels. The description of the debilitating East Coast winter produces genuine shivers, and Doiron is particularly good at using the sounds and smells of the landscape to evoke genuine atmosphere. The snaggle toothed and inbred criminal fraternity inhabiting the less salubrious parts of the Maine backwoods are portrayed with such grisly glee that images of Lonnie the Banjo Boy from Deliverance kept flashing before me. The story bounces along like an ATV on a forest track and there is a very neat and convincing final twist to the plot.
As we post this review, Trespasser is only 99p on Amazon. A great bargain compared to the iTunes and print pricing. The sequel, Bad Little Falls, came out on 1 August.
Constable & Robinson
CFL Rating: 3 Stars