I mentioned last week that I had started reading a book by an author I had enjoyed twenty or so years ago… Nevada Barr. She wasn’t named after the state, although she was just born there – but what a great name… but would I still think her books are great? I couldn’t remember much about them except that the main character, Anna Pigeon was a park ranger and detective and her adventures took place in different national parks across the USA.
I hadn’t realised she had written so many books, nineteen in fact – so if I did still like them i could not only re-read the four or five I’d already read (and probably forgotten the details) but I had a whole load more to enjoy!
The first in the series and the one I have just finished is called ‘Track of the Cat’ and was first published in 1993. I settled down to read and some time later I emerged, I came out of the Guadalupe Mountains where I had been tramping around with Anna… In other words I was utterly absorbed, sucked into the story, engaged with the puzzle, and needing a rink since I had been exploring the Chihuahuan Desert where the mountain range is in western Texas.
So from opening the book I knew yes, I will like these stories, they are as good as I remember, I will be engaged, intrigued, absorbed in Anna Pigeon’s adventures… However, what I hadn’t remembered and which really added to the whole enjoyment of reading were the descriptions. From the opening pages, the mountains and desert are vividly painted – not in great chunks, not in whole paragraphs, but in sentences woven into the introduction to Anna herself. We are drip-fed details so we see it in our mind’s eye…
Anna sat down on a smooth boulder, the top hollowed into a natural seat. The red peeling arms of a Texas madrone held a veil of dusty shade over her eyes… A spiny rock crevice lizard peered out at hr with one obsidian eye, it’s gray-and-black mottled spines creating a near perfect illusion of dead leaves and twigs fallen haphazardly into a crack in the stone.
A madrone, by the way is also known as a naked Indian tree or a Texas madroño, a species of flowering plant in the heather family.
The story, as in all good mysteries is puzzling, the characters realistically contradictory – for a while you might think one is a ‘goody’ another is a ‘baddy, but then something is discovered which changes that! Someone has a motive… or perhaps they don’t… someone behaves suspiciously, but then their behaviour is explained… Clues are dropped, hints are made, but no-one could predict the actual revelation at the end – and yet it is believable and fits with the rest of the novel! The main character Anna isn’t perfect, she is flawed and makes mistakes, says the wrong thing to the wrong person, sends the wrong signals… but she is consistent and true to herself in the novel.
One thing which did strike me – the plot couldn’t be set in the twenty-first century! Mobile phones and phones which can take and send photos, GPS, computers and internet, scientific procedures and processes… These would have changed the whole novel!! This story is cemented on the cusp of change, before the world shifted into the age of technology!
My picture is not of the Texas desert… I’ve never been there… it’s a sandy Norfolk cliff!!
I’m not sure my books are as exotic in location as Nevada Barr’s, but here is a link to them: