Nevada Barr’s 14th park-based mystery novel, Winter Study, is a New York Times Best Seller. You’ve already read it, so now you’re wondering what Super Ranger Anna Pigeon will be doing in #15. Traveler knows all, and reveals it here for the first time anywhere.
Well, maybe not all. Reviewing a book that has not yet been written is a more than routinely difficult task, so we ask that you cut Traveler a bit of slack. Here is our forecast.
Number 15 will have a one- or two-word title. Let’s see, first there was Track of the Cat (1993). That’s four words. Then there was A Superior Death (1994). That’s three words, and still too many. Title parsimony finally arrived with Ill Wind (1995), Firestorm (1996), Endangered Species (1997), Blind Descent (1998), Liberty Falling (1999), Deep South (2000), Blood Lure (2001), Hunting Season(2002), Flashback (2003), High Country (2004), Hard Truth (2005), and Winter Study (2008). If #15’s title contains more than two words it will send shock waves through the publishing world. We feel pretty safe with this particular prediction.
Anna will be temporarily assigned to one of 12 possible parks. Protagonist Anna Pigeon is home-based at Natchez Trace Parkway, but her career as a law enforcement ranger has seen her short-posted to so many different places you’d think she was an itinerant tin knocker. Anna first emerged in Track of the Cat at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far west Texas. (Nevada Barr explains that she invented the lethally tough lady ranger because “there were a couple of folks in Texas who really needed to be dead.”) Anna then moved on to Isle Royale NP in northern Michigan, where her character (pun alert, pun alert!) took on some real depth.
After that there was Mesa Verde NP for Ill Wind, Lassen Volcanic NP for Firestorm, Cumberland Island NS for Endangered Species, Carlsbad Caverns NP for Blind Descent, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island national monuments for Liberty Falling, Natchez Trace Parkway for Deep South, Glacier NP for Blood Lure, back to Natchez Trace Parkway for Hunting Season, then to Dry Tortugas NP for Flashback (2003), Yosemite NP for High Country (2004), Rocky Mountain NP for Hard Truth (2005), and back to Isle Royale for Winter Study. Rest assured that #15 will be venued in one of the afore-mentioned twelve parks. Nevada Barr has quit rangering for good, so it’s a safe bet that her Anna will not be popping up in any park that Ms. Barr is not already well-acquainted with. Natchez Trace Parkway has the inside track, since that is where Anna's hubby Paul is. A source close to Ms. Barr -- well, at least close enough to get a book signed -- has reported that the wandering Anna is "getting tired of celibacy."
Anna will give you the insider’s view. Let those coffee table books make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the parks. Anna will tell you what a REAL national park is like. A real national park is woefully under-budgeted and under-staffed. A real national park has rangers who are poorly paid, live in crummy employee housing, and get the job done with worn out equipment. A real national park has real people working there, including some who will lie, cheat, steal, kill, and use naughty words. Nevada Barr fans will not be viewing a park through rose-tinted glasses in #15.
Anna will cope with a maddeningly unresponsive bureaucracy. Any supervisors and up-the-line functionaries that Anna encounters in #15 will be part of the problem, not part of the solution. Anna knows that the Park Service is fundamentally a bureaucracy like any other, and her experiences with higher-ups have convinced her that these men and women are consummate CYA specialists. What’s a ranger to do when the people she answers to are spineless and clueless? Why, fend for herself, of course! Anna has a strong moral compass, so she will break the rules humanely and creatively in #15.
Anna will struggle with her inner demons. As all of us faithful readers know, Anna is a forty-something recovering alcoholic whose life story is littered with tangled relationships, bitter frustrations, and tragic losses. Poor Anna attracts trouble like a dead fish attracts flies. Thank goodness her sister Molly is, by remarkable coincidence, a psychiatrist or psychologist or whatever. In #15 Anna will call Molly up, tell her all of her troubles, and not get billed. (Why do the rest of us have to pay $200 an hour for active listening?) Since repairing our Super Ranger’s bruised psyche would render her considerably less interesting, don’t expect that to happen in #15.
Anna will suffer grievous bodily harm. Getting a little roughed up a few times in the course of a long career might satisfy some enforcement rangers, but not Anna. She insists on having somebody beat the bloody crap out of her at least once or twice in every single novel. It's a miracle that this woman is still alive. Like Farley’s feral cat “Speedbump,” her body is 80 percent scar tissue. About six novels ago Anna's surgeons installed a ventral zipper so they could more easily access and repair her broken bones and battered internal organs. Anna will engage in mortal combat in #15, no doubt about that. No body parts will be off-limits, either. Ouch, ouch, ouch!
Anna will give a male chauvinist pig his comeuppance. This MCP will not be a nuanced misogynist, either. He’ll be a slack-jawed, mouth-breathing, knuckle-draggin’ woman hater that not even a mother could love. Circumstances will force Anna to tolerate the MCP’s insults, but she will bide her time. Anna knows that she will eventually get her chance to humiliate, maim, or kill him. In her previous 14 park novels, Ms. Barr has had Anna dispatch MCPs with conventional weapons, such as emergency flares, so expect her to employ something novel in #15.
Anna will figure it out. Move over Nancy Drew. Turn in your badge, Lilly Rush. Eat your heart out Adrian Monk, Joe Leaphorn, and the rest of you pretenders. There never has been, and never will be, another criminal investigator with the mental acuity of Anna Pigeon. There is no clue she cannot ferret out, no non-obvious conclusion she cannot reach. You can bet your last buck that the perps won’t stand a chance in #15. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.