Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron

I don’t usually love suspense-thrillers, but The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron steps beyond the limits of genre writing. Typically commercial fiction focuses on plot at the expense of character, but this new release novel manages to be both a page-turner and a complex family drama. Plus the North Woods setting is magical. The Poacher’s Son is one of the strongest debut novels I have read. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a bestseller.

It's a gripping story: Jack Bowditch is the number one murder suspect after a reviled property developer and his police escort were shot and strung up like jacked deer. Jack has a record of drunk, violent behavior and poaching, but he never cared about local politics. Jack has evaded arrest and has disappeared with uncanny skill into the woods. Not even the dogs can find him.

Jack's son, Mike, is a newly minted Maine Game Warden and the narrator of this suspenseful tale. Mike ditches his wardening responsibilities, hoping to find his father before a trigger happy officer shoots him. Childhood flashbacks are woven into the present day manhunt and render a multi-dimensional family portrait. Is Jack a dark hero framed for crimes he didn’t commit or is he a vindictive murderer? Is Mike a reliable narrator?

My only criticism is that the female characters were not as well developed as the male characters. With the notable exception of Mike’s boss, the women function as manipulative objects of desire.

The Poacher’s Son is dripping testosterone, but given that, I was pleased that the protagonist was such a kind and sensitive man. Mike is a good foil to his womanizing father. I’m looking forward to seeing how he matures in the upcoming series.

“The grass was brittle from the cold and made a crunching noise beneath our boots, like a person eating potato chips. At the bottom was a frozen pond, filled with standing dead trees like sharpened poles. There was an area of open water at one end of the pond where a stream flowed out. A muskrat was struggling in the water, near a hummock of grass and dead branches where the trap had been set. My dad waded into the knee-deep water until he stood over the small, writhing animal and shot it with his pistol.”
-The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron
will be released on May 11, 2010 in the USA

Interview with Paul Doiron
author photo by Mark Flemming

Sarah: your fictional story of property development in the North Woods reminded me of the Plum Creek Development Controversy by Moosehead Lake. Was this the inspiration?

Paul: my inspiration for The Poacher's Son actually predates Plum Creek's proposal to develop the Moosehead Lake region. Since 1997, roughly 6 million acres in northern Maine has changed hands. Unfortunately, many of the new timberland owners are absentee profiteers rather than responsible stewards of a precious natural resource. Game wardens have been on the front lines of the transformation that has swept through the Maine woods.

Photo by Kristen Lindquist (Paul Doiron's wife)

Sarah: The Poacher’s Son is full of detail and has a strong sense of place, how did you research it or was it based on personal experience?

Paul: the nature descriptions and sense of place come from my own experience. I was one of those Maine kids who was either wading through swamps, catching snakes, or holed up in my bedroom reading Sherlock Holmes stories. I still spend as much time outside as I can. I fly-fish close to a hundred days each year and am an avid birder. I'm also a Registered Maine Guide, which means I’m licensed by the state in first aid, map and compass work, and basic woodcraft to lead trips into the wilderness.

Sarah: has writing this novel changed or reaffirmed your view of the father-son relationship in your own life?

Paul: my poor father! He's a gentle and even-tempered man, utterly unlike the character of Jack Bowditch. I'm sure readers will wonder where my knowledge of fractured father-son relationships came from. I've had friends with emotionally abusive fathers. I also attended an all-boys Jesuit high school where tests of manhood were daily ordeals. I think I had to unlearn the bad lessons I learned in that hyper-masculine environment before I could write The Poacher's Son.

Sarah: as editor in chief of Down East Magazine, Books and website, when do you find time to write your books?

Paul: I'm going to steal a joke from Kate Braestrup, who is a Maine Warden Service chaplain and bestselling author. When asked how she balances her job responsibilities, she said, "By neglecting my personal relationships." In my case there's some sad truth in that statement. I would say that my two "full-time" jobs as editor and author actually complement each other, though. Every day I get to explore Maine and meet interesting people. Some of what I learn informs my work for Down East; other observations go into my novels.

Sarah: why do you write fiction instead of nonfiction?

Paul: great journalism is unquestionably an art form (I'm thinking of works like The Executioner's Song and Refuge), and I could see myself writing a nonfiction book eventually. But fiction was my first love, and I think "made up" stories can bring us inside other people's experiences in ways that defy understanding. I've learned more about the human condition from reading novels than I have from reading newspapers. Think of what Pride and Prejudice has to teach us about romantic love, for instance.

Sarah: you seemed to enjoy spinning your campfire tale. Was The Poacher’s Son as much fun to write as it was for us to read?

Paul: I just love telling stories. Having people lean closer to me and ask, "And then what happened?" It just delights me to no end.

Sarah: what is the best writing advice you received?

Paul: the best advice I received was actually something I read in A Moveable Feast. "All you have do is write one true sentence," Hemingway used to tell himself. "So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there." It's a lesson in staying true to your ethics as an artist, but it's also a piece of practical advice. A novel is built out of individual sentences, after all. You have to persevere.

Sarah: can you share a preview of where the Mike Bowditch series is headed?

Paul: my plan for the series is that in each book Mike will be a year older. Especially in detective fiction we're used to meeting our heroes fully formed. (Philip Marlowe is already Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.) But I'd rather follow Mike as he overcomes his personal demons and discovers an inner strength he doesn't know he possesses. He's going to journey through some very dark places, internal and external, before he becomes the man he's destined to become. I hope readers will want to come along with me.

Disclaimer and Photos: I received the free ARC from the author on my request. Thank you, Maria Padian, for connecting us. Kirsten Lindquist's lake and cabin photos and Mark Fleming's author photo were reproduced with permission and under copyright. My mountain vista in autumn and beaver pond photos are from the White Mountains in Maine.

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@Barrie Summy


Rose said...

Sarah, you know I love mysteries, and I'm always looking for a new author, so this book sounds right up my alley! Your interviews with the author, though, are what I really enjoy. Knowing some background and what inspired the author adds so much to the reading experience. And you are a great interviewer!

tina said...

Sounds wonderful especially being set in Maine. I think that is one reason I am drawn to Stephen King books.

Maria Padian said...

So I'm totally jealous that you've read The Poacher's Son! I'm dying to get my hands on it. Sounds great!

pattinase (abbott) said...

What a lovely review and interview. This book sounds special and love the Maine setting.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, you’ll appreciate the combination of mystery and wilderness. I love interviewing authors because my questions at the end of a book are answered. I’m glad these interviews add to your reading experience too. I’m looking forward to reading your Book Club review.

Tina, if you’re a fan of Stephen King, you’ll love this author too. Doiron really captures Maine, but he's not as scary or gross as King (fine by me!)

Maria, thanks so much for connecting us! You won’t have to wait much longer. Paul will be signing books at the Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick on Saturday May 15 3-4:30.

Patti, I think you’d really like this book. Looking forward to reading your book club review too.

Beth Yarnall said...

Wow, this sounds really good. Thanks for your review.

A Cuban In London said...

May I add another comment to your wonderful interview with Paul? Sometimes non-fiction writers, i.e., journalists and columnists, are so good at what they do that one wonders what a novel by them would read like.

Great review. I loved your remark about women's passive role. I've often noticed the same in other novels. And I have a lot of pedigree in that field. I devoured the Thomas Harrises and the Dean R Koontz in my uni years.

Many thanks for the review and the interview. And to Paul, good luck.

Greetings from London.

A Cuban In London said...

Haha! Oh, dear I didn't realise that I'd posted the same comment twice. Oh, dear, blogger's just been invaded by an army of cyber-gremlins. Run for cover!

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Beth, nice to connect with you through the book review club again!

ACIL, Doiron is clearly a master of fact and fiction. I think he’s right that it boils down to story telling. The sexy, manipulative women turn me off genre fiction aimed for men, but in that context, The Poacher's Son is more progressive than most. The boss is a strong female character without a romantic connection and even Mike’s ex-girlfriend is intelligent and acts independently. Blogger is slow today.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous scenery! What a fabulous setting! And what a great line: "a crunching noise beneath our boots, like a person eating potato chips."

Sarah Laurence said...

Kathy, the writing throughout the book is top-notch. I enjoyed your book review too.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Sarah, - I really enjoyed your review and the interview with Doiron. I think what he says about writing 'one true sentence' is applicable to many things as well as writing.

In relationships, in teaching, in therapy, one true sentence opens doors, diminishes tension and paves the way for open communication. In every facet of our lives we deeply resonate with moments of spoken or written truth.

I will keep The Poacher's Son in mind as a good summer read.

Keri Mikulski said...

Wow! Sounds amazing! :) I'm definitely going to check this one out. :) Thanks for the review!

BTW, great pics! I want to vacation in the log cabin.

Angie Muresan said...

Sarah, you really do give the best author interviews and book reviews. I can't wait to read The Poacher's Son, now.

Barrie said...

Great review!! Besides the intriguing review, I feel that I should read The Pocher's Son based on the release date (which is the same as I So Don't Do Makeup!!) Great interview questions and answers. Thank you to the both of you!

Sarah Laurence said...

Bonnie, yes, I liked that advice from Hemingway. That’s interesting that the same principle holds true for therapy. I’d love to hear what you make of The Poacher’s Son. Mike carries a lot of emotional baggage from his childhood. He's begging for therapy.

Keri, I enjoyed your book review too. My husband and I will be vacationing one night in a log cabin up north this summer.

Angie, thank you! Let me know what you think of Doiron’s novel.

Barrie, thanks for hosting the book review club. I will be thinking of both you and Paul on May 11th. So exciting!

Kittie Howard said...

Found your blog at Sapphire's and what a lovely blog you also have. My hub's from NH, always enjoy Maine's fab scenery. Also enjoyed your interview today. Thank you.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I don't read much suspense/thriller either, but this sounds intriguing. I love a great setting, and I've always wanted to visit Maine (and find out what's up there) ;). You've got me curious.

Love the pictures!

Bee said...

I don't really know anything about the North Woods area of Maine, and I actually started by reading your link to it. It does sound like a setting which is ripe for a good story. Like you, I don't often read "suspense-thrillers," but I'm intrigued by the character of Mike.

Great interview with Paul Doiron. This "feature" adds so much to your book reviews.

(I'm shattered tonight -- long and busy week -- but I will write you "properly" tomorrow.)

Ellen Booraem said...

Wonderful package, as usual, Sarah! (I'm just catching up with the book club, I'm afraid...I've been out straight since Wednesday.)

I so admire (and envy) journalists who manage to write in their "off" hours--I never could pull that off. As some others have said, I'm not that much of a thriller reader, but this one sounds so intriguing I'll be on the lookout for it.

Thanks for the insights...

Sarah Laurence said...

Kittie, welcome to my blog! It’s so nice to connect with you through Sapphire.

Alyssa, The Poacher’s Son definitely captures the wilder parts of Maine. It would make excellent vacation reading. I’m going to encourage my teenaged son to read it this summer while he’s camping in Maine. I enjoyed your book review too.

Bee, good to hear you visited that link and it was helpful. I often wonder if people bother to follow them. I’ve had a similarly busy week and am only just catching up on blog comments now. I’ll look forward to your email. We moms deserve some friend time on Mother’s Day.

Ellen, I’m only just catching up on blog comments tonight after 2 long days of novel writing. I have no idea how some novelists work another full time job either. My art is very part time. You have to read Paul Doiron if you live in Maine. You’ll love how he captures our wilderness. The writing is really good too. I read very few suspense thrillers, but I plan to read his sequel too.

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful review and interview. Although I've somewhat lost my former zeal for good adult fiction this book might revive it. In any case, I think I want to be like Paul when I grow up. :)

☆sapphire said...

Hello Sarah

Thank you for this nice review!
I like to read coming-of-age tales very much. How old is Mike in the first book? His process of overcoming his personal demons and discovering an inner strength would be interesting!

Sarah Laurence said...

Troutbirder, this book has your name written all over it. Read it and tell me what you think. Your comment about Paul made me laugh. He’s a character into himself with such an interesting background. He also attended Yale and Emerson.

Sapphire, how funny, I was posting a comment on your blog at the same time despite the 14 hours between us. Mike is in his mid 20’s in the first book, a graduate of college and game warden training. His impulsive nature reminded me of a teenager, but his avoidance of technology and pop culture made him seem of a past generation. He’s a timeless character with plenty of room for growth.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

Hi Sarah, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment at Oasis blog today! I enjoyed your interview here. Doiron's comment about having to get over an all-male religious education before he could write this book- and your earlier comment (in the review) about "dripping testosterone" made me smile. Perspective is everything.
Ms. Sarah, it's good to connect again!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I saw this cover somewhere and was really intrigued. I'll have to add it to my wishlist now.

cynthia newberry martin said...

I love hearing about first books. Interesting interview too. And I agree with his response to your question about fiction over nonfiction: "I think 'made up' stories can bring us inside other people's experiences in ways that defy understanding."

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, welcome back to blogging! You have been missed. The Poacher’s Son is not my usual type of reading, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m waiting for the sequel.

Lenore, welcome to my blog! I’m a big fan of your reviews. I’d love to hear your reaction The Poacher’s Son.

Cynthia, it is really exciting to discover a new author, especially one as talented as Doiron. His fiction rings true on an emotional level even with a larger than life story.

All, The Poacher's Son was reviewed today in the Sunday NYT Books Crime column.

Charlotte said...

Great interview, and, as always, photography. Looking forward to reading this, too, despite not really being a mystery reader (wait...I amke exceptions all the time - anything in Swedish, which is quite a lot of mystery, and also Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie). Envisioning taking this book to Popham, after school is done for the year....

Sarah Laurence said...

Charlotte, The Poacher's Son would be a good beach book. It's an easy and entertaining read. My teenaged son plans to take it on his 7 week canoe trip in the North Woods this summer.

Alyson | New England Living said...

Just reading this post and seeing these photos made me want to get up to those north woods! I imagine reading the book would push over the edge in getting up to Maine.

Great interview!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, the beauty of books is you can sit in your comfy chair and let the author do the hiking for you. Doiron’s descriptions make me want to revisit the North Woods.

Sarah Laurence said...

All, the time of Paul Doiron’s talk and book signing in Brunswick has changed. I’ll be there. Let me know if you will be too. I’d love to say hi. Gulf of Maine Books is a wonderful independent bookstore that has been a fun part of this college town for decades.

Gulf of Maine Books
207 -729-2659
134 Maine Street
Brunswick, Maine
Saturday May 15

My NEXT BLOG POST (May 12) will be going up LATER than normal today. It’s been a busy week.

Woodcraft said...

A new name to me, and I love Stephen King! Great review, I will take the plunge...