Putnam, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
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Reviewed by G. Hall
evada Barr is back to her top form in
after her somewhat disappointing previous book
. In a first for this mystery series featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon, Barr sets a second episode in the same national park, in this case Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. As readers saw in her wonderful
, this is a rich setting for all kinds of fictional mayhem, eccentric behavior and evil doings. Anna is now a park supervisor with several subordinates, including both reliable Barth Dinkins and lazy Randy Thigpen.
s usual Anna stumbles on a murder, this time in an old plantation house along the Trace. The corpse turns out to be a local good old boy, who appears to have died while in the midst of a unconventional (for Mississippi at least) sexual act. The victim's brother is running for sheriff and attempts to thwart the investigation at every step. Along with the murder, Anna must also deal with vandalism at a slave cemetery and with Thigpen. Resentful that Anna has gotten
job, the latter tries to undermine her at every step. As Anna digs she hits some nerves and soon is the target of several increasingly vicious attacks. Randy becomes more and more of a problem as the plot deepens - any woman who has ever worked in a situation where she does not get total support from the men working for her will identify with Anna.
ne of the many joys of reading Barr's books is watching the development of Anna's character. In the early volumes of the series, Anna was newly widowed, still in deep mourning and drinking heavily. She often turned to phone conversations with her psychiatrist sister Molly to help her get through the night. As the series evolved, Anna became more emotionally stable and, although still basically a loner, able to form personal relationships. In
her involvement with Sheriff / preacher Paul Davidson progresses although she still questions it at every step. The amount of change in the lead character is unusual for a continuing series and really gives the books an extra dimension over other mysteries. I do miss the entertaining and insightful conversations with Molly, but am glad to see Anna more content with herself. Of course, long-time Anna Pigeon fans should not worry about her becoming totally happy and complacent. She is still her enjoyable, prickly and difficult self.
s a former park ranger herself, Barr does an excellent job of creating a real setting so that the reader can feel and even smell the environment and vicariously enjoy the park. For armchair travellers who may never make it to Mississippi, or Mesa Verde or Glacier National Park or any of the other settings of previous books, it is a great way to travel. All in all
for Nevada Barr fans and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
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