The Bone Orchard

Written by Paul Doiron

Review written by Laura Harman

The Bone Orchard
RRP: £8.99
Released: July 2, 2015
Pbk Original

Mike Bowditch, textbook maverick cop (or game warden), has started work as a fishing guide. His should-be idyllic life is compromised when he hears the news that a friend and veteran has been shot, by none other than his old mentor, Kathy Frost. Soon, Kathy finds herself under threat. But who is hiding behind the sniper rifle? Bowditch, heart left in the force, brings himself out of retirement to find out.

The story starts with a bang. An emergency dispatcher transcript throws us straight into the action. Who is this woman on the phone? What is her son going to do? The ensuing chapters keep up that feeling of tension. The story proper starts with a bit of history but rather than feeling frustrating, the reader is pulled inexorably towards the fateful moment we know is coming. Still, we hope that something different might happen, that the characters might be aware of this recount, and be able to change their own histories.

Then the story slows down. The audience follows Bowditch through his more comfortable yet ultimately less fulfilling new role as fishing guide happily, feeling the tension at Doiron is subtly building again. This is one of the greatest strengths of the book. Its pace varies so much throughout, slowing down when we want it to speed up, speeding up when we want it to slow down; all done so cleverly that the audience is pleasantly frustrated, teased into wanting to know more, or anxious for what might happen next.

However, a new reader can be left a little dazed by Bowditch’s previous life experiences. He seems to have suffered trauma after trauma but, to someone who has not met these deceased or troubled characters before, it can feel that the emotional toll they have had is short-changed. Fortunately, as the story goes on, the first-timer begins to see these issues affect Bowditch – the hospital he has to visit, the way people compare him to his father – and we learn to understand him a little more.

A tricky thing. Doiron is not a sexist. However, it does feel as though Bowditch places women in a rather separate category to the men. Men, ultimately, are the ones getting things done in this book. A strong female warden is constantly questioned by our narrator. Is she ‘insecure about her gender’? He places his own expectations about women upon her: ‘Her facial features weren’t unattractive. It was her attitude that made her appear so mean and unapproachable.’ When she finally smiles, we are told she ‘actually had very pretty teeth’ as though this is in any way relevant except to make her fit into a more clearly defined feminine role. Luckily, we find out that this warden has a crush on Mike. And so the world makes sense to him again. Again, I don’t think any of these issues come from Doiron but I did find certain parts frustrating, pushing me away from forming a connection with Mike.

Ultimately, The Bone Orchard is a slow-burning tale of redemption and rediscovery which invites the audience to amble with Bowditch through the woods. Every now and again, we step on a twig which makes a loud crack and we all pause, fearful, waiting for something to happen. These moments are all the more powerful for the steady pace we take the rest of the way.

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