The Anna Pigeon mystery series was a favorite of mine many years ago, but over time I fell out of love with the books and found them dark, draggy and depressing. Sometimes I’m tempted to pick up a Nevada Barr book at the library, but mostly I skip them and go for the other mystery authors I love — P.D. James, J.D. Robb, Anne Perry and the like.
Until this book.
I saw it in a discount book catalog and decided I’d give it a try. It was cheap. It was a paperback. How bad could it be?
Turns out…it was great.
The Anna Pigeon mystery series focused on National Park Service law enforcement officer Anna, a former New York City stage manager who left the footlights for starlight in the canyon lands out west when her husband was struck and killed a taxi cab. The back story is doled out in dribs and drabs throughout the series, until this book. This book is the back story, and frankly, it’s a heck of a lot better than any of Barr’s latest books.
In this story, we begin when Anna is still raw from losing Zach. She’s fled New York City on a cliched Greyhound bus, departing for Arizona “just because.” She wants to get away from the city and memories of her husband. She takes a job cleaning up human waste on the beach. Yuck. Talk about the worst job you can have….the recreation area is a favorite spot for rich people and party boats, and folks camp illegally on its shores, pooping with abandon. Anna’s job, under the watchful eye of Jenny, her roommate and boss, is to clean up the messes left behind by others. Jenny takes water samples to ensure swimmer safety.
Quickly we are thrust into the mystery. Anna awakens in something called a solution hole — a sort of cave with a narrow, chimney-like opening from which she cannot escape without a ladder. Her head is pounding and she is naked. Someone has carved the word, “Whore” on her inner thigh and left her without food, water or clothing.
She vaguely remembers going out for a hike on her day off and coming across a group of college boys trying to rape a college girl, a group from one of the party boats. The boys pursued Anna and that’s the last thing she remembers. Gradually, the tale unfolds, and we struggle along with Anna to survive in the worst possible conditions. Someone Anna dubs “the monster” drops drugged water in a canteen to her, along with meager amounts of food, but it is not until a little skunk kit is chased by coyotes into the hole that Anna determines a plan of escape.
She does escape (although I won’t tell you how) but missed death another time when she and her roommate, Jenny, are caught in frigid waters with rock walls; someone steals their ladder and prevents escape. Gradually we come to realize it’s another park ranger, but who? Regis or his creepy wife, Bethy?
I won’t tell you the answer, but suffice to say that until the end, I really enjoyed the book. I was a bit disappointed that the end did not hold a definite answer to the “who done it” or perhaps I just missed it.
The Rope by Nevada Barr is worth ever penny and a great late-summer book to take to the beach, the pool, or read while relaxing.