‘Bearskin’ is a thriller like no other

Sometimes, you just need to get away.

Out of your element, far from the usual. A change of scenery is called-for, a temporary life unlike the one you usually live. Or, as in the new book “Bearskin” by James A. McLaughlin, you need new digs that could save your life.

Renovating the old cabin was a big job, but Rice Moore had willingly signed on for it. Despite bees, despite high Virginia temperatures and humidity, despite that he had other tasks to do as caretaker for an Appalachian forest preserve, working on the cabin was a relative pleasure.

It sure beat risking his life.

On the run from a Mexican drug cartel that hadn’t managed to kill him while he was in jail on set-up charges, Moore hoped that anonymity in Virginia would keep him safe. Then again, it hadn’t helped Apryl, a researcher and his partner, who’d been deeply involved in smuggling unmarked packages and who trusted too much. She’d kept her head down, but someone killed her near the Arizona border.

Moore had to admit, Virginia was a nice place to hide. The cabin was at the end of a long private driveway. Surveying the forest was enjoyable, and the job took advantage of Moore ’s skills and knowledge. The locals were stand-offish and a few rednecks rankled him, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle.

And then he started finding the carcasses.

A local mushroomer showed him the first dead bears, paws removed and guts spilled. Later, Moore found other dead animals, and he found tree-stands, and bait. Someone was killing bears for their black-marketed body parts, and they were doing it in pristine forest that was supposed to be off-limits to humans.

But as his obsession with finding the bear-killers grew, Moore crossed the wrong people. One of them, a small-town lawman, did what nobody else had done: research, and he knew who Moore was and why he was in Virginia .

And that lawman had a big mouth…

“Bearskin” is a little – no, wait, it’s a lot different than your normal thriller.

What makes it so is a quite-lengthy passage in which author James A. McLaughlin’s main character trusts a shady source in an uncharacteristic manner and descends into a hazy dream-state obsession that lasts for pages and pages. It seems to tell readers more about Moore and it serves as a bridge to an important part of the story, but it’s weird. Really weird.

And yet – the things you find in a normal thriller are all here, times two, which makes the weirdness mostly forgivable. Crime, torture, murder, stalking, a heart-pounding chase, it’s all here, mixed in with acres and acres of thick forest that serve, metaphorically, to give readers a safe place to go when this thriller gets too thrilling.

And, happily, that’s often, as you’ll see in this book. Your heart will race, your mouth will go dry and if you’re a bedtime reader, “Bearskin” may keep you awake for hours. Beware: you may never want to put this book away.

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