James A. McLaughlin
Ecco, June 2018
From the publisher: Rice Moore is just beginning to think his troubles are behind him. He’s taken a job as a caretaker for a remote forest preserve in Virginia, tracking wildlife and refurbishing cabins. It’s totally solitary – – perfect to hide from the Mexican drug cartels he betrayed back in Arizona. But when Rice finds the carcass of a bear killed on the grounds, his quiet life is upended. Rice becomes obsessed with catching the poachers before more bears are harmed. Partnering with his predecessor, a scientist who hopes to continue her research on the preserve, Rice puts into motion a plan to stop the bear killings, but it ultimately leads to hostile altercations with the locals, the law, and even his own employers. His past is catching up to him in dangerous ways and he may not be able to outrun it for much longer.
The underlying plot line has to do with the killing of bears so that their galls and paws may be harvested and sold to what apparently is a steady demand by drug cartels’ clients.
Rick Morton is using the name of Rice Moore so his real identity could not be tracked by those trying to find and kill him, apparently not a short list, headed by a Mexican drug gang against whom he had testified a year prior. (He already apparently had a glass kneecap.) I was amused when he introduces himself to someone using a name he had picked from the phone book “because he didn’t want to use his real fake name.” The owners of a cabin Rice is working on wanted to turn the cabin into a guest house for scientists. The people from whom he is hiding are not to be trifled with. One man they were hunting had his face skinned, then sewed back on, just to “prove they could do whatever they wanted.” A woman with whom Rice is very close had been kidnapped and then raped. As Turk Mountain Preserve Caretaker, Rice, who was born in New Mexico and grew up mostly in Tucson, is a target whose capture is always a threat. Rice is “intrigued by the concept of bear culture,” leading to the reader doing likewise. Much of this is fascinating stuff, I have to say (although it may not seem that way at first blush). Recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2018.
From the publisher—
Still grieving over the tragic death of her fiancé, American wildlife biologist Catherine Sohon leaves South Africa and drives to a remote outpost in northeast Namibia, where she plans to face off against the shadowy forces of corruption and relentless human greed in the fight against elephant poaching. Undercover as a census pilot tracking the local elephant population, she’ll really be collecting evidence on the ruthless ivory traffickers.
But before she even reaches her destination, Catherine stumbles onto a scene of horrifying carnage: three people shot dead in their car, and a fourth nearby—with his brain removed. The slaughter appears to be the handiwork of a Zambian smuggler known as “the witchdoctor,” a figure reviled by activists and poachers alike. Forced to play nice with local officials, Catherine finds herself drawn to the prickly but charismatic Jon Baggs, head of the Ministry of Conservation, whose blustery exterior belies his deep investment in the poaching wars.
Torn between her developing feelings and her unofficial investigation, she takes to the air, only to be grounded by a vicious turf war between competing factions of a black-market operation that reaches far beyond the borders of Africa. With the mortality rate—both human and animal—skyrocketing, Catherine races to intercept a valuable shipment. Now she’s flying blind, and a cunning killer is on the move.
Elephants have to be among the most beloved of all animals and there’s something quite romantic about them and their story. I think much of our appreciation of these wondrous creatures comes from our recognition of their intelligence and their loyalty to one another. We’re also drawn in by the tragedy of their existence, the horrendous poaching and slaughter for their body parts, especially their tusks.
Catherine Sohon is an admirable woman, one who goes the extra mile to fight the smuggling trade that so severely endangers the elephants, but the stakes get even higher when she becomes involved in murder. Unprepared for this, she nevertheless plunges right in to investigate the human deaths as well as the poaching and slaughter of the animals. Running into something of a brick wall in an official named Jon Baggs, Catherine pushes ahead and finds a senseless darkness even she didn’t expect. She also finds a welcome lightening of the grief she has been living with since her fiancé’s death.
Author Caitlin O’Connell doesn’t just admire elephants; she has made them her life’s work and I envy the opportunities she has to be around them. She’s also a dedicated scientist and is doing much to make that discipline more accessible to those of us who aren’t as thoroughly immersed as she is. Her knowledge of science and of elephants in particular shine through the pages of this debut novel and I can honestly say I know a little more after reading it. I’m already looking forward to what I hope will be many more novels from Ms. O’Connell.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.
About the Author
A world-renowned expert on elephants, Caitlin O’Connell holds a Ph.D. in ecology and is a faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as director of life sciences for HNu Photonics. She is the author of five nonfiction books about elephants, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense, An Elephant’s Life, A Baby Elephant in the Wild, and Elephant Don, and co-author of the award-winning The Elephant Scientist. She is the co-founder and CEO of Utopia Scientific, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and science education, and the co-founder of Triple Helix Productions, a global media forum with a mandate to develop more accurate and entertaining science content for the media. When not in the field with elephants, O’Connell divides her time between San Diego, California, and Maui, Hawaii, with her husband, Tim Rodwell, and their dog, Frodo.
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