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Hard Truth    by Nevada Barr order for
Hard Truth
by Nevada Barr
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

It is hard to believe, but Hard Truth is the 13th of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries. Often it feels like the writer of a long-running series is just going through the paces to feed another yearly book to fans. Rarely can a mystery author maintain the momentum as Barr does with this series about feisty, independent and quirky middle-aged national park ranger Anna. Part of the success is due to Anna's evolution from a very troubled loner with few personal relationships to a more contented woman - though one who still prefers the sounds and smells of the natural world which cleanse 'the muck of humanity's sty from the mind and soul'. As this episode opens, Anna is newly married. However, she does not get to enjoy married life in Mississippi with Sheriff Paul Davidson for long, since she has been newly promoted to be district park ranger for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. So readers do not need to worry that there will be much romance cluttering the narrative or impeding Anna's adventures.

Anna arrives in Colorado to discover that two of three young girls, who have been missing for several weeks from a religious retreat in the park, have been found in very bad condition in one of the campsites. They are discovered by Heath, an athletic forty-one-year old woman, who has recently become a paraplegic in an ice-climbing accident. While Anna is drawn into the search for the remaining girl, Heath attempts to comfort the youngest of the girls found - Beth has bonded with her rescuer. The situation is complicated by the girls' odd, apparently polygamous, family situation, where young women are often both wives and daughters to the patriarch while still vulnerable adolescents. Then there is charismatic youth leader Robert Profitt, who was in charge of the religious retreat, as well as several park rangers who may not have straightforward reasons for assisting in the search.

Barr's depiction of Heath's bitterness at losing her physical prowess rings true, while her slow rediscovery of remaining abilities as she focuses outside herself on Beth is heartwarming. By the end of the book both she and Anna find themselves in a very dangerous situation, vividly described and felt. They need to use their full capacities, both mental and physical to save themselves. While I found this book's psychopathic element a bit too long and gruesome for my taste, it is still one of the author's best - which is saying a great deal. As always, Barr's novels transport the reader to her settings, so one feels both the peace of the park and the shattering disruption when violence occurs. For anyone who has visited the parks featured, these stories will bring back happy memories. For others, they offer a good substitute to being there.

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