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.