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by James McLaughlin and MacLeod Andrews, narrator
Macmillan Audio/Flatiron Books, April 2023
ISBN: 1250821002

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For those who have spent time in Colorado, James McLaughlin's evocative writing about the remote landscape will bring back vivid memories. Even for those who have not, reading PANTHER GAP will bring the beauty and isolation of the land to life. Bowman and Summer are siblings who have been brought up by their paranoid father beyond the reach of anyone outside of their family. They've learned survivalist skills alongside a wide-ranging homeschooled curriculum with Bowman, in particular, becoming so entranced by the natural world that Summer sometimes believes he may have succumbed to the mental illness exhibited by his father. The book is told from both Summer's and Bowman's perspectives, both in the present and in the past, and Bowman's chapters share his metaphysical leanings. Summer's chapters often allow the reader to ground Bowman's transcendent experiences in the rational world. Together, the two perspectives transport the reader to a world of both beauty and pain.

When Summer, struggling to keep the family's hidden ranch afloat, is notified of a potentially huge inheritance that can only be theirs if both she and Bowman appear at a meeting with representatives of a Swiss bank, Bowman has left civilization to live in a remote Central American jungle. Circumstances force him to head home at this point, as Summer and her uncles attempt to protect the ranch while still meeting the bank's stipulation. The trajectories of these two plot lines rely on what seems like circumstances as they move toward intersection but, in fact, are carefully constructed to make sense as the book draws to a highly suspenseful end.

There are many characters introduced throughout the book but, while lesser authors might struggle to help the reader keep track of them, McLaughlin does a superb job of making each clearly essential and well-defined. The plot line is highly complex, involving, among other things, mental illness, survivalism, hidden bank accounts, drug cartels, FBI informants, hidden identities, and lots and lots of gunfire. At no point does McLaughlin lose track of the main theme of the book, however, which is personified by both Summer and Bowman: how can an individual use his or her skills, intelligence, and resources to make a real difference in the world without having the world destroy them first. The book can be read simply as a fast-paced thriller, but McLaughlin invites us to think much more deeply than that. The absolutely gorgeous writing only enhances the experience. In the audiobook, the narrator further strengthens the impact of the descriptions with his deep voice and direct delivery.

This is McLaughlin's second novel, following 2018's BEARSKIN. While there are similarities, especially in the remoteness of the outdoor settings, the books are standalones After reading the first, I was unsure that McLaughlin would be able to meet the high standard he had set for himself but, if anything, he has surpassed it with PANTHER GAP. I can only hope it doesn't take five years for him to grace us with his next.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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