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Doiron’s ‘Widowmaker’ fast-paced tale – History, travel & comedy collide in ‘Wonder Trail’

Andra Day performs at the 2016 Apollo Theater Spring Gala on June 13, in New York. (AP)
Andra Day performs at the 2016 Apollo Theater Spring Gala on June 13, in New York. (AP)
‘Widowmaker’ (Minotaur), by Paul Doiron

In the first few pages of Paul Doiron’s “Widowmaker,” game warden Mike Bowditch seizes an illegal animal (10 percent dog and 90 percent wolf) from a violent, drug addled couple; is stabbed in the back for his trouble; gets into a fight with his girlfriend; discovers he has a half brother; and learns that this newfound relative has violated his probation on a sex-offense conviction.

Any one of these things might have plunged Bowditch into a self-destructive spiral when we first met him in “The Poacher’s Son” (2010). Back then, he was a hotheaded, newly minted game warden charged with catching poachers and keeping order in the wilds of Maine while struggling to keep his personal demons in check.

But in the next five novels in this fine series of crime novels — stories in which Bowditch witnessed horrific acts of cruelty, killed in self-defense, failed to save his outlaw father from dying at the hands of the police, lost and found love, barely avoided getting fired for insubordination and performed uncommon acts of courage and compassion — he gradually achieved a measure of self-knowledge and maturity.

So when the mother of the brother he never knew about asks him to track down the boy before the police do, both Bowditch and the reader wonder if he can do so without succumbing to his old demons.

“Widowmaker,” book seven in the series, sends Bowditch deep into the snowbound mountains of northern Maine, where future Olympians train at an exclusive ski academy, military interrogators train at a top-secret installation and convicted sexual predators work as virtual slaves in a last-chance work camp.

Violent

The result is a violent, suspenseful, fast-paced tale written in Doiron’s customary tight, vivid prose, with his keen eye for both idiosyncratic Maine characters and the beauty of the natural landscape.

  “The Wonder Trail” (Dutton) by Steve Hely

Steve Hely’s plan is vague: travel south and make lots of stops along the way until he reaches the end of the world. And so begins “The Wonder Trail,” Hely’s account of everything from the history of the Panama Railway (tragic) to the best sandwiches in South America (they’re in Chile).

After leaving Los Angeles, Hely first stops in Mexico and here gives readers a blueprint for the remainder of the book: rapid-fire, bite-sized parcels of history including tales of explorers, natives, battles, victories and, on occasion, someone being burned alive as a human sacrifice; plus book recommendations, tips on what to see and what to skip, and a handful of notes on the people he encounters along the way. A dozen or so half-page chapters detailing topics such as “Thought That Just Occurred to Me” and “A Nicaraguan Canal” add to the book’s charm, delivering an endearing quality to the read.

The traveler’s observations remain charming and ever hopeful. While he acknowledges the horrors of a country’s past, he always lands on the pleasant, nearly convincing readers that maybe the histories of violence and corruption, plus a few coups are worth this beachside hut that serves decent spaghetti. However, because he jumps from city to city so quickly, it’s difficult to invest much emotional energy into the landscapes or people.

Hely’s account can feel like attending a dinner party, cornered by a fellow guest fresh off an adventure, passport still in pocket, so wound up he’s unsure of which story, fact or rumor to regale first. However, if you’re going to be cornered by anyone at a dinner party, Hely is the guy you’d want (except for when he’s high on Amazonian ayahuasca, which he researches, consumes and details thoroughly for readers).

Also:

MINNEAPOLIS: A federal appeals court on Monday threw out $1.8 million in damages awarded to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who said he was defamed by the late author Chris Kyle in the bestselling book “American Sniper.”

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals also sent a portion of the case — Ventura’s defamation claim — back to the district court for a new trial, saying Ventura’s attorneys made improper remarks and the trial court “clearly abused its discretion in denying a new trial.”

Messages left with Ventura, his publicist and his attorney were not immediately returned Monday. An attorney for Kyle’s estate had no comment and referred questions to publisher HarperCollins, which said it was reviewing the opinion and had no comment at this time.

Kyle is a former SEAL regarded as the deadliest sniper in US military history with 160 confirmed kills. In his book “American Sniper,” he wrote a subchapter called “Punching Out Scruff Face” in which he describes decking Ventura at a California bar in 2006 after Ventura made offensive comments about SEALs, including that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” in Iraq.

Ventura, a former Underwater Demolition Teams/SEAL member and ex-pro wrestler, sued. He testified at trial that he never made the statements and that the confrontation never happened. He also said the book ruined his reputation in the tight-knit SEAL community.

Kyle, who was killed on a shooting range in 2013 by a troubled fellow veteran, gave sworn videotaped testimony before his death that his story was true. The case proceeded against his estate.

In 2014, a jury awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, appealed, asking that the verdict be thrown out or that a new trial be ordered on First Amendment and other grounds. Ventura’s lawyers, however, argued that jury got the verdict right.

In Monday’s ruling, a three-judge appellate panel reversed the unjust-enrichment award, saying the theory of unjust-enrichment “enjoys no legal support under Minnesota law” and fails as a matter of law. (AP)

By Bruce Desilva

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