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Panther Gap


Panther Gap

James A. McLaughlin won multiple awards for his debut novel, BEARSKIN, which released in 2018. The book took us to the deep forests of Appalachia and featured a man dealing with everything from Mexican cartels to poachers as he sought to defend protected land, all under the metaphor of bear skinning.

"PANTHER GAP is a book that definitely goes there. The places that McLaughlin takes readers are indeed special and unlike anything I have read recently."

McLaughlin’s long-awaited second novel, PANTHER GAP, continues his unique vision and brand of storytelling. Its descriptions and language are so different that it could very well be taking place on another planet. Siblings Bowman and Summer have been raised on a secluded ranch in Colorado by their father and two uncles. They live as one with nature and the various animals of the region. In fact, they have even been known to put together and wear skins to imitate different animals, most frequently wolves. Their father’s pet eagle specifically loves it when they don the wolf pelts as it practices attacking them.

However, their father’s instruction tends to go well beyond that of a love of nature and respect for the local wildlife. Bowman and Summer have been taught not to trust those from the outside world and to recognize almost everything they see as a threat until proven otherwise. They must learn to think like prey in order to work their way out of nearly every situation. As they grow into young adulthood, these teachings will shape their personalities and psyches to make them two very different people. Eventually they will become estranged from each other and grow apart.

It turns out that Bowman and Summer are brought back together in their 30s when their grandfather passes away and leaves them an inheritance, which is far from free and comes with a hefty price. It will place them directly in the midst of a long-fought battle not only with deadly drug cartels but with various members of illegal crime syndicates in the area who want it all. They will now be called upon to use those same survival skills that shaped their lives and at one point were all they knew. It’s like riding a bike for them, but it may not be a ride that they’re willing to take.

PANTHER GAP is a book that definitely goes there. The places that McLaughlin takes readers are indeed special and unlike anything I have read recently. The landscape, language and deep dive into the off-the-grid lifestyle that Bowman and Summer have experienced is so alien at times that it is hard to grasp that the action is occurring in the United States and not within the boundaries of a well-imagined fantasy novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 7, 2023

Panther Gap
by James A. McLaughlin

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250832683
  • ISBN-13: 9781250832689