Saturday, April 12, 2008

Read: Winter Study by Nevada Barr

I first came across Nevada Barr in the Port Richmond branch of the New York Public Library in Staten Island. If I were ever filming a movie that called for a library location, I'd choose good old Port Richmond. Dark with wood-paneled walls, even the architecture there says "shh, library." Anyway at loose ends for something to read, I was desperate enough to head to the revolving paperback stands. There I found a dog-eared copy, the bottom right corner of the cover with its lurid art reminiscent of the early sixties gone, of A Superior Death. A few hours later, I was hooked.

Nevada Barr's mysteries all take place in National Parks; it's one of their trademarks. Her heroine, Anna Pigeon, park ranger and by this installment District Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, is a sort of earthy everywoman. Those who have read the series have followed Anna's personal and professional evolution from grief-stricken widow and bureaucratic rebel to newly married, middle-aged rebel with a post. All of this information seems superfluous in discussing this installment because none of the characters we've come to love- her psychiatrist sister, Molly, who we will recall took up with Anna's earlier FBI beau, and her Mississippi police chief/preacher husband Paul- makes an appearance here.

The star of this novel, if such terminology may be permitted, is the Isle Royal National Park in Michigan. It is the park in the earlier A Superior Death, this time in winter. The park is closed, but the winter study of wolves is conducted annually. It is this study for which Anna has volunteered. The conditions are arctic and brutal. And Anna experiences a variety of life-threatening situations. Thrust, as usual, into a perilous and mysterious situation, Anna, as usual, saves the day at the expense of her aging body. One can only imagine how much scar tissue she would have by now. As to aging, here's an observation from Anna herself:

The Previous season, when she'd been on a twenty-one-day fire assignment in the mountains east of Boise, Idaho, she'd noticed that the difference between the old firefighters and the young ones wasn't in strength or endurance. It was in recovery time. The old guys, the firefighters over forty, were as strong as the kids. She and the others could lift and run and dig with the best of them. But they wore down. The kids were stronger after three weeks of hard physical labor. The grown-ups were just bone tired.

Winter Study is not going down among my favorites. It joins the one set in New York City at the bottom of my list. But it is still good entertainment, good for a few hours of escape at the very least. It is also good in another way. The best reading here involved the park and its creatures, which was in itself fascinating. If you haven't read Nevada Barr, do yourself a favor: start with the first one.

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