Seduced by the North Country’s gifts — and then ambushed by its perils
“Catamount: A North Country Thriller”
By Rick Davidson
Beech River Books
251 pages, $18.00
New Hampshire has its cities, but the thick-forested, mountainous, animal-laden Granite State also has its wild and unpredictable North Country. Freedom’s Rick Davidson knows this well and has written a page-turner about an outsized creature of lurking beauty: a huge, skulking mountain lion.
You can call this wildcat a cougar, lynx, puma, black panther, mountain cat or, as Davidson writes, “catamount,” derived from cat-of-the-mountain, or catamountain.
Whatever the name, Colorado may harbor the reclusive, nocturnal, 200-pound pouncing catamounts, but New Hampshire does not — at least according to the N.H. Fish and Game Department.
These elusive, solitary, 7-to-8 foot long expert hunters can run 45 mph, climb a maple tree or swim a lake. They can range over 300 square miles and need 10 pounds of predatory meat a day.
Some back-country New Hampshire residents maintain that they have spotted catamounts, no matter what Fish and Game says. The department maintains these “catamounts” are merely smaller bobcats inflated by misimagination.
Davidson writes a persuasive story of city people seduced by the basic lush life of North Country gifts — and then ambushed by its subsurface perils. “The illusion of peace,” he writes, translates to “more and more people from ‘away’ paying large sums of money to own a piece of paradise.”
City people smile at country store signs that state, “If we ain’t got it, you don’t need it.” How can the North Country be much of a problem, beyond poison ivy?
Ed and Marty Rollins drive north with 10-year- old Josey and 6-year-old Cindy. They are, as local conservation officer Rob Schurman says, part of the “yahoo season” from the Fourth of July onward. They are among the trouble-free leaf peepers and moose gawkers although, he adds, “more and more flatlanders feel that they can commune with nature by purchasing expensive hunting gear and getting into the woods.”
Then the Rollins’ and others see glimpses of shadowy black movements in the night, blocks of blackness shifting alive and fast.
At this point Davidson begins to introduce short italicized sections in the narrative that isolate the scenes the catamount sees through its fierce yellow eyes glinting above the wild camouflaging grass.
These backcountry workings deepen and intertwine through the legendary North Country power of the Old Abenaki Metallak and his pledge on the destiny of his land here: “No one shall profit from the healing of the Great Spirit.”
When young Josey and Cindy go missing, and then when their fearless dog Virgil saves them from the monster, then “something very large and very black springs out of the night” and eviscerates a man, seeding terror everywhere.
A fire among pine needles and scrub brush feeds the trees into a conflagration. Again and again, an “eight- or nine-foot black apparition lands and lets out a blood-curdling scream.”
The people call for help: troopers, firefighters, hunters, tracking dogs.
Eight sheep are slaughtered by this catamount that is “impossible” to exist in New Hampshire. Twenty-five cows on a distant rural farm are slaughtered. Two hunters are killed. And a bear.
Helicopters arrive. TV crews spread the news recklessly in pursuit of the catamount.
The humans close in and fire their powerful hunting rifles. The creature escapes. The creature attacks. The creature is wounded but attacks again.
The elements close in, too: forest fires, swamps, lakes, hunters, dogs, legends, curses, catamount.
A man swimming desperately in a lake panics at the catamount rapidly swimming toward him. A doomed man with a big gun: He could have handled anything, but now he is dead.
Throughout his thriller, Rick Davidson scatters catamount facts and fancies along with his gripping words, surprising readers with an ending, then another one, and yet another before the ultimate ending — and then the epilogue.