Bad Little Falls by Paul Doiron

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Bad Little Falls by Paul Doiron

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Lu Greer
Reviewed by Lu Greer
Summary: 'Bad Little Falls' is a book full of wild and stunning snow swept landscapes, but with a mystery driven narrative that at times leaves the reader out in the cold.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 403 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Constable and Robinson
ISBN: 978-1780338194

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Written proudly on the back cover of Paul Doiron’s Bad Little Falls is a quote from C J Box proclaiming that it has a ‘terrific sense of place’. Whilst this is certainly true, I can’t help but feel that this quality has been highlighted not through the writer’s skill of portraying location, but through the book’s lack of other interesting attributes.

Bad Little Falls, set in the wilds of rural Maine in midwinter, shows the unravelling mystery of a man stumbling out of a blizzard to the front door of an unsuspecting elderly couple. The man is frozen half to death and soon begins raving about a friend lost in the storm, which quickly causes a frenzied rescue mission. Soon Mike Bowditch, a game warden and Doiron’s protagonist, uncovers the missing man under a snow drift, turning the hunt into a murder investigation. Whilst this initially powerful mystery becomes gradually overshadowed by Doiron’s portrayal of Bowditch’s love interest, and at least one too many descriptions of her anatomy, it is still an interesting and baffling mystery to be unravelled.

Bad Little Falls opens with a description of a young boy named Luke Sewall and an extract from his diary portraying his broken family and their close relationship with alcohol, just before which we are informed that Luke is a ‘deeply damaged child’. It is this fact which the reader gradually learns more about as Luke’s diary extracts run parallel to the main story in a way that both expands on the facts we are given, and shines a much more personal light on the members of his family. It is through these extracts that the interest of the book really lies, as the mind of an angry and confused child shows a rather different side to the story than that of Mike Bowditch.

Bowditch, being the main character of two previous Doiron novels, is initially presented standing in front of the frozen solid body of a zebra out on a hunting range in Maine. It is a powerful, bizarre, and evocative image to open with, but after this chapter my interest in Bowditch was, unfortunately, left to die with the zebra. With Bowditch having been featured in other books before means that the casual reader taking Bad Little Falls as a standalone novel is somewhat left out in the cold. Whilst the narrative isn’t reliant on the past there are multiple instances which seem as though they should be poignant, but instead left me for one wondering what on earth the bizarre references are connected to in Bowditch's past.

Overall then, it seems that the rather promising plot of Bad Little Falls is somewhat buried in the snow. Whilst the idea of someone being suspected of killing his best friend, and with just one person on his side who hasn’t written him off immediately as guilty wouldn’t have exactly been ground-breaking, combining it with the location could have been. Whilst it feels as though C J Box’s summation of the plot as having a ‘terrific sense of place’ was through lack of other positives, this shouldn’t detract from the truth of the phrase. Had Doiron chosen a slightly less clichéd plot, and avoided using too many descriptions of Bowditch’s would-be girlfriend, his use of the frozen bogs and wild snowstorms of Maine could have made an astounding and unique backdrop to the mystery of a stone-cold killer.

For more crime fiction with a strong sense of place any work of Karin Slaughter's will fit the bill, with Skin Privilege being a particularly powerful offering. You might also enjoy Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron.

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