- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

“The Sasquatch started coming and then stopped. It couldn’t fit its shoulders into the opening. It was too big! It shifted and thrust a massive arm at him. He watched the thick fingers crawl forward; yellow fingernails clawed at the wood …

We normally don’t review books that aren’t based on real life and facts, such as how to fish, where to hunt, or where one might find the best barbecued ribs. However, in the case of Jay Kumar’s “Dark Woods” ($6.99, Berkley Mass Market Original, paperback, New York, N.Y., penguin.com) it’s easy to depart from the standard routine.

In his regular life, Kumar is the founder and president of BassFan.com, one of the most popular bass tournament fishing Web sites ever. How this busy man found time to write a bite-your-nails novel, I’ll never now.

But here you have the hero, Skokum County, Wash., sheriff’s deputy and recreational hunter Frank Vaughn, finding a deer that looked as if it had been ripped apart by a leaf shredder. Later he finds the torn body of another hunter. Now add the dark, wet, fern-sodden forests of the Pacific Northwest and the sudden, terrifying roar of something whose sound Vaughn believes to be the elusive Sasquatch — Bigfoot himself — and away we go.

Kumar makes sure the story maintains a brisk pace for the most part. There is a soon-to-be protagonist and seasoned hunter, Chris Mackey, who happens to be in Washington’s high country to dispel rumors that Sasquatch exists because he works for Carolina Pacific Lumber Co.

You can imagine what will happen to their tree-cutting if an actual Sasquatch is discovered. The Fish & Wildlife Service would move in, declare Bigfoot an endangered species and the lumber business will slide down the drain. Bummer!

By the time I’d read half of “Dark Woods,” I began to believe there really are such creatures — daddy Sasquatches, mommies, kiddies — whole families of them — with the males in particular smelling worse than the gorilla house in a zoo but a cousin to homo sapiens all the same.

OK, OK, so you’ve heard that there’s no Bigfoot. But are you certain?

I didn’t want the book to end, which for me is a sure sign of a gripping novel.

“Sowbelly — The Obsessive Quest for the World Record Largemouth Bass” by Monte Burke ($23.95, Dutton Publishing, New York, N.Y., hardcover, b/w illustrations; available March 17) is an absolutely fascinating book if you’re into big bass and salivate at the thought of a world record. It’s what dreams are made of, and it could turn you into a millionaire.

More than 30 million Americans pursue the largemouth bass with a fervor accorded few other fish. The standing world record, a 221/4-pound behemoth, caught by George Perry in 1932 in Georgia, started a mania that grows with every passing year. Burke did his homework, visiting and talking to just about everybody who’s ever caught a truly big bass.

There are the Californians who find huge bass in lakes like Miramar, Castaic and Casitas. Big-bass anglers’ names like Crupi, Zimmerlee, Easley and Kadota are better known than home run hitters in baseball if you’re a California bass nut. They all get their due, their bass triumphs and disappointments.

Burke also lays it on what many bass fanatics believe to be the cheaters, the liars — all of whom hope to capitalize on a record, like the woman who caught a whopper bass that might have broken Perry’s world record, only her bass was found to have a 2½-pound lead weight in its stomach.

The accounts are endless and great fun to read. “The ghost of George Perry and his fish haunt every one — including me,” says super tournament angler Roland Martin.

“A Walk in the Woods With Poppy” by Mary Farrall Hannah ($11.95, On Target Family Publishing, Dahlgren, Va., 540/663-3917; available at Borders and Barnes & Noble, paperback, b/w sketches), is the story of two children, Braedon and Kiersten, who are introduced to the joys of hunting by their grandfather, their beloved Poppy.

What the book’s author, a nurse, does quite well is pass along some mighty important lessons for grownups and children who intend to pursue the sport of hunting. Hannah has seen horrible hunting accidents while working as an emergency medical technician in nearby Charles County, Md., so she weaves a smart account of how Poppy taught the kids the art of hunting, with a “safety-first” approach in each instance. However, it’s done in a neat story form that leads the children through each chapter, from learning to recognize deer signs to eventually becoming safe hunters themselves.

This can serve as a worthwhile and interesting teaching tool for hunter safety. Go for it, you instructors, you moms and dads everywhere. Yes, it also goes for grandfathers like me. I plan to read the book to my grandsons, Lane and Jake, as they prepare to follow in their own Poppy’s footsteps.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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