Review of Audiobook Panther Gap @MacmillanAudio

Not often does the reading/listening of a book inspire me to grab all of an author’s backlist, which in this case is just one (bummer), much less actually buy the audiobook of said backlist, but that’s just what happened after listening to James A. McLaughlin’s gripping Panther Gap.

Blurb: Siblings Bowman and Summer were raised by their father and two uncles on a remote Colorado ranch. They react differently to his radical teachings and the confusions of adolescence. As young adults, they become estranged but are brought back together in their thirties by the prospect of an illegal and potentially dangerous inheritance from their grandfather. They must ultimately reconcile with each other and their past in order to defeat ruthless criminal forces trying to extort the inheritance.

Set in the rugged American West and populated by drug cartels, shadowy domestic terrorists, and nefarious business interests, Panther Gap shows James McLaughlin’s talents on full display: gorgeous environmental writing, a white-knuckle thriller plot, and characters dealing with legacy, identity, and their own place in the world.

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As children, siblings, Bowman and Summer were inseparable, but as they grew up on their beloved ranch, Panther Gap, their father decided that they needed experiences outside of their insular world. While Bowman who possessed a preternatural psychic connection with the wild things of Panther Gap vehemently rejected the idea of going to boarding school, his sister fell in line. After an argument with his father, Bowman leaves to follow the trail of a jaguar into Mexico. Summer goes to school and then returns home to run the ranch with her Uncles, Jeremy and Darwin.

Bowman’s father tracks him down in Mexico. He informs Bowman that on Summer’s 35th birthday, the two will inherit money from their grandfather, money that may have come from unsavory dealings with people/organizations with long, long memories who will do anything to get the money back. Bowman shrugs away the warning as more of his father’s paranoid blatherings, but when it comes up to Summer’s 35th birthday, he heads home to warn his sister in James A. McLaughlin’s powerful, Panther Gap.

A subplot involves East Coast lawyer, Sam, who is hiking with his best friend, Mac, when Mac picks up a woman, not knowing that the woman is on the run and that her electric yellow backpack carries some highly desirable items. Mac and the woman get kidnapped, stranding Sam who stumbles into the seemingly impenetrable Panther Gap where Summer and her Uncle Jeremy aid Sam in resolving the kidnapping.

Panther Gap blends a few of my very favorite genres: mystery/suspense and environmental writing with a tinge of paranormal/magic realism. The mystery has enough twists and speculation to keep the pages turning while the environmental aspect is thoughtfully and insightfully written.

Despite the fact that Panther Gap came in at 368 pages, I would happily have read more and actually desired more. I was fascinated by Bowman’s character and his ability to touch the minds of other creatures. However, I would have loved more of his story regarding his adventures in Mexico and Central America. In fact, most of the characters provided an interesting read from the savvy Uncle Jeremy, restaurant-ready chef Uncle Darwin, unflappable agent of mystery, April, to the fish-out-of-water lawyer Sam. They were highlights that made me wish for more.

One of the key thrusts of Panther Gap is the interconnectedness of all of nature and that, regardless of our all-encompassing self-importance, we are just one species among many others. Everything is inextricably linked. Without synergy, growth flounders, and the all-important human concept of “winning” is just a piece of paper flapping in the wind. Having guns garners nothing but having money does and it will be the rich, as always, at the top of the food chain and on the first space ship to another planet they’ll inevitably destroy. While this is not a literal idea from the novel, it is what I took away. I’m certain that more in-your-face environmental concepts might have been shot down for wider public consumption. Perhaps. Anyway, suffice to say, I was won over by the author’s description of a world intertwined.

With the focus on thriller and environment, it’s almost easy to overlook the beautiful prose. Which, I guess, is the sign of an extremely well-written novel. Everything works together–exquisitely.

There’s really a lot more to say but I’ll stop here. Looking forward to more.

As this is an audiobook, I wanted to mention how deftly MacLeod Andrews told the story, highlighting the thrilling parts and drama while keeping the listener immersed in the experience.

I received an audiobook copy from the publisher (Thank you, Macmillan Audio) for an honest review.

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