Written by Paul Doiron — It should be autumn in the dense wilderness of the Maine backwoods, but it is unseasonably hot. People are still wearing cut-off shorts and flip-flops, and the insect swarms which should have died away by now are driving everyone mad. Game warden Mike Bowditch is shown the recently killed carcass of a moose. Not a great scandal, you might think, in a state where virtually anything that runs on four legs, swims or flies is a target for hunters. But the killer of this moose had no interest in the animal’s meat when they shot it and left it for dead. More animals are found, killed with the same modus operandi.
The big problem for the warden service is that the animals have been killed on the extensive estate belonging to Elizabeth Moore a self-made millionaire. Moore is determined to use her wealth to buy up enough forest to make a new national park, even if this means threatening the traditional local income streams from hunting and logging. Moore lives on her estate in a palace of her own creation, along with her beautiful but willful daughter, and an oddball hipster type from her past.
Bowditch is annoyed at being sidelined in the quest to find the moose killer, and his state of mind is not improved by the fact that his superior officers treat him with a mixture of jealousy and suspicion. Nor is his life made any easier by the fact that one of his colleagues is the daughter of his friend and mentor, Charlie Stevens. Bowditch is madly in love with her, despite the fact that she’s engaged to the rich-boy son of a local timber magnate. As the hunt for the shooters goes on, more resources are poured into the investigation, and one or two Deliverance-type locals are rounded up as suspects. When Betty Moore’s daughter has to be cut – dead – from the wreckage of her BMW, the case takes a distinctly sinister turn.
The writing is evocative, especially in the detailed descriptions of the Maine woodland and its wildlife. Mike Bowditch is not necessarily the most endearing of central characters, but he cares about his job, even if his relationships are not all they could be. The plot crackles along nicely, and Doiron carefully matches up the concerns of the conservation fraternity with those native to the state who are more worried about their jobs.
However, the main premise doesn’t quite add up. The death of the wild animals triggers what seems to me a disproportionate campaign to hunt down the killers. The big scandal of the moose deaths seems to be that the carcases were not taken away and eaten, while it seems perfectly OK for licensed fishermen, hunters and trappers to commit similar killings as long as the remains end up in the freezer. A moose is a perfectly noble animal, but I can’t buy the idea that the deaths of several of them should be seen as an atrocity equal to human death.
Eventually, however, people do die in the novel, and the climax of the book is well handled. Massacre Pond is part of a series, and Doiron is particularly skillful in giving us enough of Bowditch’s backstory to know what he is about, without the narrative being dragged back into biographical detail. If you’re a wildlife lover and someone concerned about ecology and conservation, you will enjoy this book.
To read our earlier review of Trespasser click here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars