I wrote recently that I had rediscovered an author I really liked when I first read her quite a few years ago. As with anything you loved and now return to, there was the anxiety that I might not like the books as much, or worse, that they might not seem as good as I once thought they were… Well, to my relief I discovered that yes, I did enjoy the books as much as I had before, and yes I did think they were as good… in fact, on rereading, I thought they were better than I had first appreciated! First time round I was galloping through the gripping read and not really paying much attention to the writing. Perhaps because I write so much now, and so aware of writing I realised what a really good writer the author is.
The author of the books I have been rereading is Nevada Barr – that really is her name, not an assumed name. She writes about a national park ranger cum law officer, Anna Pigeon, who has all sorts of tricky and interesting crimes to solve against the backdrop of stunning American national parks.
I have just finished reading the second book in the series, A Superior Death, set on and around Lake Superior. The actual mystery is extraordinary – I’m sure there never has been any crime scene, real or fictional like it! On such a large lake there have over the centuries been many disasters and shipwrecks; in the past it was not always possible to recover the bodies of drowned sailors and so they would remain in the ships and because it’s so cold they didn’t decompose in the usual way but just stayed as ghastly wraith like creatures. Some divers go down to explore and discover there is an extra body… and it’s a modern person dressed up in an old sea-captain costume…
You can guess that is an intriguing story, and despite seeming so far-fetched it’s so well-written that the possibility or impossibility of it all never interferes with the narrative. However, what I now find almost more interesting (and I am so surprised that it didn’t properly register before) is the stunning descriptions – not only of the scenery, the islands, the little settlements, the camp sites, the water above and below the surface of the mighty lake, but also of navigating on such a vast and changeable area, and the detail of diving down into it.
I know Nevada Barr was a ranger herself, so she is writing from experience and must have contacts she can ask for extra details, but the amount of research she must have done is incredible… and yet it all sits so lightly on the story line. I never thought, oh here is a great chunk of explanation about air pressure or here we go, this is about navigating at night. I must say though that the plot is quite convoluted, although it all makes sense when I read it, and although plenty of hints were dropped I did not guess who did the dreaded deed!
I’ve just bought the next in the series, Ill Wind , which is set in the Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado
Here is a link to her page: