WINNER OF THE 2019 EDGAR FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL
“Bearskin is visceral, raw, and compelling—filled with sights, smells, and sounds truly observed. It’s a powerful debut and an absolute showcase of exceptional prose. There are very few first novels when I feel compelled to circle brilliant passages, but James McLaughlin’s writing had me doing just that.” —C.J. Box, #1 NYT bestselling author of The Disappeared
Rice Moore is just beginning to think his troubles are behind him. He’s found a job protecting a remote forest preserve in Virginian Appalachia where his main responsibilities include tracking wildlife and refurbishing cabins. It’s hard work, and totally solitary—perfect to hide away from the Mexican drug cartels he betrayed back in Arizona. But when Rice finds the carcass of a bear killed on the grounds, the quiet solitude he’s so desperately sought is suddenly at risk.
More bears are killed on the preserve and Rice’s obsession with catching the poachers escalates, leading to hostile altercations with the locals and attention from both the law and Rice’s employers. Partnering with his predecessor, a scientist who hopes to continue her research on the preserve, Rice puts into motion a plan that could expose the poachers but risks revealing his own whereabouts to the dangerous people he was running from in the first place.
James McLaughlin expertly brings the beauty and danger of Appalachia to life. The result is an elemental, slow burn of a novel—one that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
James McLaughlin’s visceral novel takes us into the depths of an Appalachian wilderness marred by poverty and crime. After Rice Moore—the caretaker of a mountain preserve who’s trying to outrun his past—stumbles upon a gruesomely skinned bear, he’s drawn into a violent underground. McLaughlin describes Moore's unsettling predicament in vivid detail, capturing his uneasiness as he tries to adhere to his internal moral compass. Peppered with striking, evocative prose, Bearskin is a wild ride that takes you into the heart of the mountains.
As taut as a crossbow and as sharp as an arrowhead, McLaughlin's debut unfolds in the Appalachian wilderness of Virginia, a landscape whose heart of darkness pulses viscerally through its characters. Rice Moore is working as a biologist caretaker at the vast Turk Mountain Preserve when he discovers that poachers are killing bears to sell their organs on overseas drug markets. Rice's efforts to curtail their activities antagonizes locals who raped the last caretaker and left her for dead, and worse it alerts agents of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, from which Rice has been fleeing for reasons revealed gradually, to his whereabouts. McLaughlin skillfully depicts Rice, revealing quirks and peculiarities of his personality that show how "his hold on what he'd always believed was right and what was wrong had grown fatigued, eventually warping to fit the contours of the world he inhabited" a disconcerting revelation that helps establish the suspenseful feeling that anything can happen. Rice's story builds toward violent confrontations with the poachers, the cartel, and nature itself. The novel's denouement, a smoothly orchestrated confluence of the greater and lesser subplots, plays out against a tempest-tossed natural setting whose intrinsic beauty and roughness provide the perfect context for the story's volatile events. This is a thrilling, thoroughly satisfying debut.
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