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  Thriller Review    

 

Shikar
by Jack Warner
Forge, 2003
Hardcover, $24.95 (364 pages)
ISBN: 0-765-30343-4
 
 

"Shikar" is the Hindu word for big-game hunt.  Yes, it is an unusual word to find on the cover of a thriller set in Georgia, but is perfect to set the mood of Jack Warner's debut novel.  A fly-by-night carnie passing through the back roads of north Georgia has an accident when a driver falls asleep at the wheel and runs off the road.  The driver is fine, but the cage he was hauling opens, releasing a full-grown male Bengal tiger.  Do they alert the authorities? No.  They drive on and disappear into the night.

A Bengal tiger claims a 200-mile territory for food, and the animal depends on surprise to catch its prey.  It will only eat when hungry, and when hunger strikes, man becomes easy prey.  The first victim is a female morning newspaper carrier -- her body is never found.  The next victim is an old hermit, but it is assumed that he died of natural causes and the local animals just got to him.  It is not till the third victim, a healthy prominent deer hunter's body is discovered, that the sheriff starts getting concerned -- especially when his deputy discovers a large paw print. The Atlanta Zoo expert identifies the paw impression as belonging to a Bengal tiger.  The hunt is on.

The mayor is upset that closing off the county will destroy the "leaf season" economy.  However, the journalists soon fill the motels and restaurants.  The Georgia governor sends the National Guard to help.  And the State Department helps arrange for a retired British big-game hunter to track the tiger.

The local color provides moments of black comedy in what are terrifying scenes.  One was when the ladies set up their Saturday quilt sale by the road even though the National Guard has the road block, they are chatting away as the tiger grabs one of the women.  The other women attack the tiger with lawn chairs, cups and anything handy, causing the tiger to release his prey and escape to the safety of the woods.

Warner's characters are exceptional.  The big-game hunter Graham stands out as the reader learns his background in India and his love for the beast that he must kill.  Likewise, Warner creates a kindred spirit for the aging Graham in 9 year-old Roy Satterly, who is so much a part of the woods that he takes on a mystical quality.  As feral as Roy is in the woods, he takes great pride in being a gentleman -- like Graham. 

Shikar is set in fictional Harte County, Georgia, but the images easily fit Hart County, Georgia located in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jack Warner's Shikar reads like Jaws, has Hindu spiritualism like Bagger Vance, and has lots of southern small town local color.  It is great escapism and would make a fantastic movie.  My pick is Sean Connery for Jim Graham and John Goodman for Grady Brickhouse.

Jack Warner is a thirty-year veteran of United Press International, having served in Dallas, New Orleans, Washington, and Atlanta.  After which he spent thirteen years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Warner and Donna, his wife of forty-five years, live on what he laughingly calls a small lizard ranch near Silver City, New Mexico.

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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