Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Rice Moore is the caretaker on a private nature preserve in the Virginia panhandle. Moore is the sole human inhabitant in this pristine 7,000 acre wilderness. One sweltering summer day, he discovers a mutilated bear carcass on his property. He sets out to find the lowlifes who did this and put a stop to them. It’s going to be dangerous work that puts him square in the sights of disgruntled hillbillies, vicious motorcycle gangs, and ex-military poachers. He’ll have to be extra careful, because any scrape with law enforcement could ping his location to the deadly cartel mobsters he’s been hiding out from (these bad hombres are a big part of the reason he took the job in the first place). Rice’s skills will take him only so far; he’ll have to become a force of nature if he wants to come out in one piece.

Bearskin would be good enough if it were a typical tough-guy potboiler, but a few things make it stand out from a crowded pack. First, it’s surprisingly ecologically-minded. Rice deeply cares about all creatures great and small on his preserve, and the reader will learn much about the ecosystem of old-growth Appalachian forests. These forests also make a unique setting for this kind of story. We’re accustomed to seeing hardboiled anti-heroes carry out investigations in big cities, and it’s refreshing to see the story beats play out in depressed rural areas. Finally, McLaughlin is a first time author. It’s exciting to see a new talent debut so strongly, and I’ll be looking forward to what he does next.

Readers of thrillers, Southern Gothic, and rural noir will find much to like about Bearskin. Hikers, campers, and other outdoorsy types will appreciate it as well. I think it also may appeal to fans of more literary genres, as long as those readers can handle occasional bursts of bone-crunching violence. At any rate, I think it’ll be one of this summer’s hottest reads with lots of cross-genre appeal. 

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