by James A. McLaughlin

Overview: 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.

Deanna Boe (08/22/18): It is always great to find a new author and read his first published book. When you do it is easy to wonder if it will pass the test. It is obvious that McLaughlin has a future in writing. I find myself speculating if the protagonist of this story will show up in future novels. I wouldn’t bet against it. It is like the “wild west,” although most of the storyline takes place in the Appalachian wilderness of Virginia.

The main character is Rice Moore who has taken a job as a care taker in this very remote region. The “flash backs” more or less explain why he needs this isolated area; he is wanted by the drug cartel. All of that remains slightly confusing until you have completed most of the book. Besides the drug cartel, he also has to contend with poachers who are trespassing onto this private domain to kill large black bears for their paws and gall bladders. These items are highly valuable in Asia for medical beliefs, i.e. to enhance men’s sexual capability.

Rice thought he would be safe in this inaccessible region but no matter, in this day and age, nothing is ever totally cut-off from the outside world. Oh yes, he isn’t that lonely since there is a female character to help him survive along that line. I would classify this as a modern day cowboy type of novel, instead of horses we have “gators” to ride the rough terrain. And yes, this is probably more of a “male” type of novel but who knows?
Rating: ***

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