James McLaughlin holds law and MFA degrees from the University of Virginia. He grew up in the mountains of Virginia and now lives in the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City. He is the recipient of the 2019 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and a finalist for several other first novel awards. Bearskin has received outstanding reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and USA Today.
In naming the book as a finalist for the prize, the jurors said:
James McLaughlin employs vivid descriptions, expansive setting, and multiple layers of plot to draw the reader into an adventure that is not soon forgotten. Bearskin is a mystery set in the rural wilderness of a game preserve in the mountains of western Virginia where Rice Moore must sacrifice the safety of his solitude to investigate the poaching of several bears on the preserve. We learn gradually of Rice’s former life as a smuggler along the Mexican border, a violent past that threatens to catch up with him if he is not diligent in protecting his identity. McLaughlin provides us with a protagonist who is dedicated to justice, but recognizes his own fallibility, a hero who chooses to protect the vulnerable at the cost of confronting his own troubled past.
In addition to the excitement of the primary plotline, McLaughlin also provides insight on conservation, solitude, and man’s relationship with the wild. Rather than impose a particular system of values on the reader, McLaughlin illustrates several points and raises questions for us to consider long after reaching the final page of the novel. It is a page turner that is also an impressive piece of literary fiction.
Michael Ferry wrote about the book for us here.
Since 2013, Artists of Utah has recognized excellence in publishing associated with Utah and Utah writers with its annual 15 Bytes Book Awards. Books published in the previous calendar year written by a Utah writer or with a Utah connection are considered by a panel of invited jurors in the categories of art book, fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. A small cash prize is awarded to the winner.
Tokyo (Fiction Collective 2) by Michael Mejia and American Fork (Roundfire Books) by George B. Handley were finalists for this year’s fiction award. See here for more on the finalists.