Panther Gap by James A. McLaughlin #BookReview #Thriller #5starreview

Hailed “a modern classic of the American West” by Winter Counts author David Heska Wanbli Weiden, PANTHER GAP is a multi-layered novel that combines gorgeous, cinematic writing with a white-knuckle thriller plot. There are car accidents, plane chases, shootouts, drug drops, and encroaching danger from rattlesnakes, coyotes, and the natural elements.

At the story’s core are two siblings, Bowman and Summer, who were raised on a remote Colorado ranch by their father and two uncles. The two grow apart over the years following a troubled adolescence but are brought back together as adults when they learn about an illegal and potentially dangerous inheritance from their grandfather, amounting to millions. Together, they must trace the money back through their family’s dark past and reckon with the secrets behind the immense wealth—all while trying to avoid a clash with drug cartels that are tangled in it all.

For fans of Captain Fantastic and Jane Harper’s The Dry, PANTHER GAP is an action-packed thriller imbued with spirituality and natural wonder. As you read, the arid southwest landscape comes alive in both beautiful and terrifying ways, making it impossible to put down until the very last page.

Panther Gap comes out soon – April 4, 2023!!!

James A. McLaughlin by Nancy Assaf McLaughlin


James A. McLaughlin is the acclaimed author of Bearskin, and winner of the Edgar Award. A native of Virginia, he now lives in Utah, at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, with his wife.

Thank you to Flatiron Books for my free copy of Panther Gap to read and review.

What’s it about (in a nutshell):

Panther Gap by James A. McLaughlin is a stunningly vivid thriller set on a hidden ranch near a small town in Colorado. Siblings Bowman and Summer Girard were living their own lives – Bowman in a remote area of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and Summer trying to keep the family ranch going in Colorado when news of an unexpected piece to their inheritance from their grandfather comes to light. But to claim it, they must join together as a family, the siblings and their two remaining uncles. They aren’t the only ones who want this money hidden in an offshore account, though. Criminals feel they also have a claim to the money, and it is not only the location of their hidden ranch that’s at stake but also their lives.

My Reading Experience:

WoW! Just wow! This book was such a treat to read, and I couldn’t help but devour it in one sitting (minus the first 10% I read the night before). The cover doesn’t scream thriller like I’m used to, but the story is just that and an excellent one to boot. From the interactions with the animals, which held thrills all on its own, as the animals are each incredibly dangerous, to the criminals that surrounded the Girard family unbeknownst to them and were closing in fast – I had plenty of thrills, twists, and turns to keep my thriller heart happy and my mind completely engaged.

I love the bit of mysticism in the story too. It added a chilling touch of paranormal to the otherwise very grounded story. Bowman believes animals can hear his thoughts and react to them, and he also believes that they consider him one of their own. And both siblings experience a mysticism (or magic) more on the line of premonitions. It makes my hair stand on end just thinking back on it.

The dark family secrets in the story are like the cherry on top of an already solid thrilling tale. Who doesn’t love unearthing family secrets? I know I do, and I enjoyed that part of the story, too, as beliefs were debunked, and new realities were put in their place. There is so much they didn’t know, and I loved learning the secrets along with Bowman and Summer.


The main characters are very different from one another. Summer is steadfast and dependable. After her father’s death, she returned to the family ranch. She ran it instead of following her path away from her family home. On the other hand, Bowman is more of a free though troubled spirit constantly communing with nature. And they both are developed so exquisitely and painstakingly that they become as natural as the descriptions of their surroundings. I like Summer and could relate to her. Still, I was fascinated by Bowman and his feelings about nature and the natural order of things.

Narration & Pacing:

The narration is done in the third person but focuses on Bowman or Summer, as the story dictates. 

There are two timelines – present day and the 1980s and 90s as Summer and Bowman grew up on the ranch. All these changes never once became confusing and instead flowed seamlessly as the story unfolded. I enjoyed the look back and getting to know their father, who reminded me so much of my own dad that it was sometimes a bit eerie.

The pacing was relatively fast. Still, when I went to post my initial thoughts about the book on an app I use, I noticed the two other reviews posted– one that described the pace as slow and one that defined the pace as medium. I find it fascinating that 3 different people who all loved the book had three very different perceptions of the pace. For me, the book read very fast. I read the eBook for the first 10%, but once I picked up the physical book (the next day), I noticed that the pages flew, and I couldn’t put it down. I read 90% of the book in one sitting.


The imagery is so incredibly vivid. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of the Colorado landscape and its inhabitants. Photos could not have described it nearly as well as McLaughlin does with his words alone. I loved the picture he painted in my mind with its dangers and power, both hidden and out in the open. For the first time, I wanted to visit Colorado and experience what I was reading about in this book. It felt so real, and unlike anywhere I have been before. 

From the secret tunnels to the rivers and creeks, the forest, and the pasture lands, I felt like I explored it all in person. I was anxious to return to that area I had come to love in the book.

Read if you like:

  • Spine-tingling thrillers
  • Strong character development
  • Vivid imagery

Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Writing Quality10
Character Development8
‘Couldn’t Put It Down’-ness10
Use of Setting10
All scores, except the overall rating, are on a scale of 1-10. The overall rating is converted to the standard 5-point system.

32 Replies to “Panther Gap by James A. McLaughlin #BookReview #Thriller #5starreview”

    1. I thought of you often while I read it. You would adore the setting and I think you could totally relate to their absolute love and respect of nature.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. That’s a stunning review, Tessa. I love when a book grabs me so strongly and refuses to let go.
    It’s interesting how the other two reviewers gauged the pace, but it sounds like they enjoyed it just as much.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I thought it was too. I’ll admit that it made me chuckle because I’ve never seen that happen before. It’s an excellent book any way you pace it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are impressive numbers. All 10s and one 8? I aspire to reach all my readers in the same way. You’re right; the cover doesn’t say “thriller” and I likely wouldn’t give the book a second glance if I saw it in a store. Now, I’m going to look for it. Thanks for such a thorough review.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is very well-written. The imagery simply transports you to Colorado and the story has all the edge of your seat-ness that I enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Based on the cover, I never would have picked this up. But based on your review, I’d start reading immediately if I could get my hands on it.

    Liked by 2 people

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