Mysterious Book Report BearskinBearskin by James McLaughlin

Ecco/Harper Collins, $26.99, 340 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-274279-7

There is a quiet, but ongoing—and growing—conflict in America, in which well-intentioned, ultra-wealthy individuals are buying up huge parcels of undeveloped land and forests, which they then put into Nature Conservancies . . . places where, they hope, all things of and in the earth will flourish as they did before the emergence of mankind.  Human beings, due to their rapacious and destructive nature, are strictly forbidden from any contact with, or entry into, the designated area.  Which puts the absentee owners into immediate conflict with the local, occasionally impoverished folks who’ve always hunted, fished, trapped and timbered on the now closed off property.  It’s a situation people living in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York are painfully aware of.  And, it’s a conflict dripping with drama that’s explored in an electrifying new debut novel that will keep readers bolted in place reading, from the first page until the last.

Bearskin, by James McLaughlin is the raw, compelling and lyrical story of a man running away from a criminal past in the desert southwest and redeeming himself by escaping into an uncertain future as a caretaker on a remote northern Virginia forest preserve.  Its owned of course, by a rich, aging California woman who’s an ex-hippie and nature lover.

Rice Moore is the caretakers name.  He’s a former mule who carried contraband back and forth across the Arizona-Mexico border, done time in a Mexican prison and is hiding out from the cartel assassins who’ve vowed to kill him.  The Preserve, as it’s referred to, is pristine, untouched for more than a hundred years . . . and it’s full of wild black bears . . . hunted for their meat by locals using hounds, and coveted by poachers who sell the gall bladders and paws to the Chinese.  Rice, a bad-ass who survived a term in one of Mexico’s most notorious prisons, is there to protect all the wildlife in the preserve, document the echosphere and, in his spare time, rebuild a neglected guest cabin.  All-in-all, a typical non-profit job, where the workload far exceeds the pay.  But when Rice discovers the remains of a bear, killed illegally on the Preserve, he takes it personally and becomes obsessed with catching the poachers . . . which brings unwanted attention from the law . . . and blows his carefully constructed false identity.  Teaming up with the woman scientist he replaced, Rice fights to save not only the wildlife, but himself in this evocative and beautifully rendered first novel from an accomplished, and exciting new writer who has with an affinity for all things wild, and many more stories to tell.  We’re looking forward to them!


John Dwaine McKenna