Book Reviews

Book Review: Dead Man’s Wake by Paul Doiron – Mike Bowditch Grows Up

In the 14th book in the series about Maine Game Warden turned Warden Investigator Mike Bowditch, faithful readers will see a turning point in Mike’s life. He’s been maturing little by little throughout the series, but there’s a pretty large leap here where he actually seems to acquire the maturity and grow into the person he always had the potential to be..

Mike is at the home of his step-father, Neil, having a small celebration of his engagement to Stacey Stevens. Since his mother died, Mike and Neil’s relationship has been sort of distant. This seems to be Neil’s attempt to bridge the distance. His new wife, Jubilee, is closer in age to Mike than Neil but embraces the family. Stacey’s parents are also present. Charley Stevens is a former Game Warden himself and is always eager to get back into the action.

While they are celebrating at Neil’s lake house, they hear what sounds like a hit-and-run involving a boat. Mike feels the need to investigate and, of course, Stacey, Charley, and Neil come along, if only to pilot the boat. Charley jumps right in and pulls a severed arm from the water. From there, the mystery is whether or not the severed arm was the reason for the death of one Kip Whitcomb or whether he was dead before he was hit by the boat.

As a warden investigator, Mike’s responsibility pretty much begins and ends at who was driving the boat that his Kip Whitcomb. There were many times Mike could have bowed out of the investigation and left it to the homicide detectives, but he doesn’t. Mike has always had a kind of reputation that didn’t play well with others, particularly his brothers and sisters in law enforcement. Here, however, even though he’s potentially treading on other officers’ territory, he shows restraint. More often than not, he’s making a case to be included, rather than just deciding to plow on ahead with his investigation, no matter who it may hurt.

The mystery is decent as there are a number of red herrings as to what exactly is going on. I kept trying to guess, but I really didn’t grasp it until all was revealed at the end. At the same time, there’s a lot of character growth here, especially for Mike Bowditch. Throughout the events of the story, he begins to realize just how much he meant to Neil even as he reflects on how their relationship seemed forced from his perspective as a teenager when his mother married Neil. It’s this evolution that causes him to make a different decision from normal near the end of the book, and it pays off nicely.

Dead Man’s Wake works nicely as a stand-alone mystery, but I really think it helps if you know the characters already. The different choices Mike makes here as opposed to the first few novels in the series is something that’s hinted at, but the reader really won’t grasp it unless they’ve seen some of his bad decisions come back to bite him (even if it did lead to him solving a crime). Doiron’s descriptions of life among the seasonal lake homes also feels accurate from someone who lives a similar existence nearby. Maine is a beautiful state with numerous bodies of water with summer homes that have these same interactions among the locals and seasonal residents. It’s a love/hate relationship and Kip Whitcomb embodies the outsider who thinks he offers something more because he has money.

I had to stop myself from staying up all night to read this once I had it on my Kindle. It’s a good story and fun summer reading, particularly if you have vacationed on the lakes of Maine or New Hampshire. The characters are well-rounded and show growth as expected by the point in the series. The mystery kept me guessing right until the end. Solid offering and I can’t wait for Mike’s next adventure!

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