My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Something is hunting the local occupants near Tucson, Arizona, and Dr. Angie Rippard is determined to find out what…and protect whatever it is at all costs. As an expert on mountain lions, also known as cougars and pumas, Rippard is dedicated to preserving these beautiful animals. But as the attacks continue and more and more people die, she struggles with her philosophy that the cat should be captured and relocated, and not exterminated, more and more difficult to maintain.
How do you balance the challenge of protecting an endangered species, a species that has been on the mountains for thousands of years, against the cardinal rule that human life must be preserved at all costs? Rippard is shocked to learn that one attack has taken place on a golf course that is only fifty feet from National Forest Land and the natural habitat for the mountain lion. The protective borders are hazy as a result of encroachment by humans. Land deals that shouldn’t have been allowed and a greed for land in beautiful areas has resulted in eroding the mountain lion’s natural habitat. The balance point is tipping. A forest fire in Arizona the previous year has meant that the hunting grounds are even smaller, with less prey, and the cats are hungry. The attacks continue and Rippard comes to realize that she is up against a mountain lion that is different than all of the rest. This one hunts humans. Rippard puts together a team to locate and dart the animal so it can be relocated.
But it is a race against time as there is another mountain lion expert who wants to track the animal, but only to kill it – Charlie “the Chopper” Rutledge. An entrepreneur worth millions, Rutledge specializes in building mountain resorts and golf courses in stunning mountainous locations. And if he has to chop down ten thousand acres of trees in order to build them, well then, that’s what he will do. With his eye on land close to the border of the Arizona National Forest for his next multi-million dollar development, the last thing Rutledge needs is a mountain lion attacking the tourists and locals. He loves hunting and decides to go after it himself. He warns off Rippard, hating her “treehugging” ways, telling her that if she tries to protect the animal he will attack her too!
Dr. Angie Rippard is a strong female protagonist in this novel. An expert in her field, a strong personality, warm and empathetic to those she loves, passionate about her cause, she is an eco-warrior and a learned professor. In her classes she takes a holistic approach, making sure her students know not just about the animals but the flora and fauna too, and the impact that humans have on the local ecosystems. And in the field, Rippard needs all the knowledge she has about the habits of mountain lions if she is going to protect them.
The attack scenes are quite violent, and I am not just talking about the big cat scenes. Charlie “The Chopper” Rutledge lives up to his name and causes carnage amongst the people ranged against him. Be warned, the body count at the end of the book is quite high! However, despite of, or indeed due to, this novel is an exciting, heart-stopping rollercoaster ride of a book.
Stacey Cochran is a writer, producer and teacher. His books include The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone, and The Kiribati Test. He was a finalist for the 1998 Dell Magazines Award for undergraduate fiction writing and a 2004 finalist for the St Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He teaches writing at North Carolina State University, and hosts an author-interview TV show in Raleigh.