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January 2020: Thriller > [Poll Ballot] Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin - 4 stars

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Joy D | 3211 comments Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin - 4 stars - My GR Review

This book provides a wonderful combination of observations on the natural world, a flawed but likeable main character, a complex plot, and erudite writing. It contains a diverse assortment of topics that the author skillfully weaves together into a cohesive story: old growth forests, ecology, herpetology, bear behavior, hunting dogs, federal and local law enforcement, drug cartels, even ghillie suits!

Rice, the main character, originally a biologist from the desert southwest, has become caretaker of a wilderness preserve in the Appalachians. He is trying to start a new life under a pseudonym to elude a Mexican drug cartel. When he discovers carcasses of black bears on the preserve, paws severed, and gallbladders removed, he attempts to entrap the poachers, putting him up against a black-market ring. Rice is edgy, easily startled by the animals that surround him, but has a wry sense of humor about it. He develops an affection for the natural habitat and comes to appreciate the solitude, though it occasionally affects his state of mind.

“The giant trees were like dormant gods, vibrating with something he couldn’t name, not quite sentience, each one different from the others, each telling its own centuries-long story. On the forest floor, chestnut logs dead since the blight had rotted into chest-high berms soft with thick mosses, whispering quietly. Something called out and he turned to face a looming tulip tree, gnarled and bent like an old man, hollowed out by rot, lightning, ancient fires. His skin tingled.”

The people of the area are much more nuanced than the usual stereotypes. The contrasts between wealthy and impoverished people add another dimension to the story. For example, the preserve is owned by a family’s charitable foundation, and some locals resent that the natural resources cannot be used to support the regional economy.

I found this book entertaining and educational. It will appeal to readers of mysteries and thrillers that like a complex storyline, appreciate richly detailed writing, and have an affinity for the natural world. If you want non-stop action and lots of twists and turns, look elsewhere.


Booknblues | 5506 comments I read this last year and enjoyed it.


Joy D | 3211 comments Glad you enjoyed it too, Booknblues! I really liked how the author spurred my curiosity by dropping a "bread crumb trail" of hints on what's to come.


Booknblues | 5506 comments For some reason I couldn't post again on this thread yesterday.
I just finished Nightwoods by Charles Frazier which is another thriller set in the same region.

So good. I love his writing.


Joy D | 3211 comments I have not read Charles Frazier yet, though I have a couple of his books on my TBR.


David Putnam (davidputnam) | 279 comments Very nice review.


Booknblues | 5506 comments Joy D wrote: "I have not read Charles Frazier yet, though I have a couple of his books on my TBR."

I'm pretty sure you will like him. Cold Mountain is one of my all time favorite books. Nightwoods is a much different theme, but also set in the Appalachians or perhaps Blue Ridge mountains. I love his writing. I have a few more on my TBR.


Joy D | 3211 comments David wrote: "Very nice review."
Thanks, David!


Joy D | 3211 comments Booknblues wrote: "I'm pretty sure you will like him. Cold Mountain is one of my all time favorite books. Nightwoods..."

I just checked and I actually have read a book by Charles Frazier. I had forgotten about Varina, which I read in 2018 and liked it a lot. Nightwoods and Cold Mountain are on my TBR.


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