Originally published: June 12, 2018

AuthorJames A. McLaughlin

AwardsEdgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author

Genres: Thriller, Suspense, Literary fiction

NominationsAnthony Award for Best First Novel

I came across this title as I have many others that have crossed my bookshelf, the free book shelf at my local Starbucks. I frequent that little section, leaving one behind when I pick up something new.

This is the first novel by James McLaughlin, and definitely worth your time. I have been disappointed in many first novels before, but this is a read that is well written with a richly developed story-line. This book would make a great screenplay, it has the right balance of story and action that would appeal to a widely varied audience. It also hints at a bit of the supernatural, leaving one to wonder if he is hallucinating from starvation and psychedelic mushrooms or being drawn into the spell of a one handed skin walker.

The main character, Rice Moore, is complex and believable. He can be best described as a humanitarian and biologist trained in the art of killing, on the run and hiding under an alias and as such trapped between the two worlds of poaching hillbilly bear hunter wannabe bikers and the Mexican drug cartel while working as a caretaker and handyman restoring the lodging on the edge of a family-owned nature preserve deep in the Appalachian Mountains.

Having been raised on a family farm that had a sizable nature preserve on it in the hilly country of Southwest Wisconsin, I can relate to the untouched raw quality of the deepest reaches of that wilderness and the mystery that can be found in the valleys and ravines. Flora and fauna dwell there that are seldom seen outside of those cool, shady locales. When Rice and Sara stray into those forbidden reaches, I feel their wonder as I had as a child.

I was not let down by the ending, either. Instead of being left flat, we are given a worthy ending and closure. Not a fully happy end nor an ironic twist. Each character has his or her place in the close of this tale, right down to Sophie.

If you happen by the shelf at my local Starbucks and see this title still there, pick it up. You will not be disappointed.


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