Summer Lead Read: Bearskin – James A. McLaughlin

Bearskin (9780062742797) by James A. McLaughlin. Ecco. $26.99 hardcover. 

  • ARC Available: November 2017
  • On Sale: June 12, 2018

This debut surprised me. It’s not often that I read a book that is equal parts beautiful prose and tense, propulsive writing. I was torn between racing through it and lingering over the insight and observant turn of phrase. But if I didn’t have a day job I think I would have read it in one sitting.

Bearskin is the story of a field biologist who is drawn into a web of criminality. Rice Moore is running from the Sinaloa Cartel, hiding out as the caretaker of a forest preserve in Virginian Appalachia. But when poachers start slaughtering bears on the preserve Rice again finds himself at odds with some pretty scary guys.

While suspense and violence are the everyday drivers of American bestsellers, what made this book unique is the handling of character. Rice Moore was a research biologist when he got caught in the snare of the Cartel. He’s a thoughtful, haunted man, at home with and in tune with the natural world. He’s also been forged by circumstance and experience into a predator and a survivor–a kind of Darwinian response to the violence of the Cartel.

Like our hero, this book spans two worlds: a natural ecosystem of enormous grace, beauty and violence–and a man-made culture of gangs, casual criminality and an even starker violence. It makes for a rare page turner.

This ARC has been around for a while but because it’s a Lead Read (Harper’s favorite read crowdsourcing program) there has been extensive distribution. If you haven’t  read it, booksellers are likely to find a copy on the shelves in your back room. And of course, booksellers can also download it as a digital ARC in Edelweiss.


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