STARRED REVIEW
June 2018

Bearskin

By James A. McLaughlin
Review by
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Part thriller, part crime novel, part dreamscape, James A. McLaughlin’s Bearskin refuses to be contained.

The bears on the Appalachian nature preserve overseen by Rice Moore, the novel’s on-the-run main character, need protection from hunters—much like Rice. He is used to being alone and operating outside the law, having fled from a drug cartel in Arizona. Rice is thankful for a break from the guns and violence of drug-running, but the bear poaching he encounters in his mountain refuge might be more than he can handle—and he finds help in the most unlikely of suspects.

The book begins with Rice’s prison sentence in Arizona and traces his tumultuous journey from confinement to hard-won freedom. Rice is employed to survey and maintain the Appalachian preserve, but the discovery of bear carcasses—as well as the story of the previous caretaker’s tragic departure—trigger in Rice a desire for revenge. In homemade camouflage, Rice spends more and more time on the mountain, watching for bear hunters and becoming like a bear himself. Wonderfully lucid prose in the climactic middle section starkly conveys Rice’s descent into a wild existence: “Hysteria fluttered like a moth in the back of his throat.” When Rice is attacked, the previous caretaker and other mountain people—including an ex-soldier turned criminal, a locksmith, a reclusive beekeeper and hillbilly brothers working their way into a nefarious biker gang—play their parts to bring about old-fashioned justice.

Smart and sophisticated, with animals both wild and domestic acting as metaphors, Bearskin is a gritty, down-home tale told with brute force. Rice is a memorable, reluctant hero for both his community and the animals in his charge.


Read more: James A. McLaughlin shares how he dug in deep to write Bearskin.

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Bearskin

Bearskin

By James A. McLaughlin
Ecco
ISBN 9780062742797

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