RARA-AVIS: Nevada Barr

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 07 Sep 2002

Being a Fed, it seems appropriate to close "Ladies' Week" with a note on another Fed, former National Park Service Law Enforcement Ranger Nevada Barr, whose series character, Anna Pigeon, is a National Park Service Law Enforcement Ranger.

NPS L/E Rangers perform local type police duties in National Parks that are rural, as well as quite a few that are in urban areas. (In three urban areas, Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco [NOT
"Frisco"]), police duties on National Parks are largely performed by the US Park Police. Don't ask me why the NPS maintains two different police agencies to perform essentially the same tasks. I've worked for the G off and on since 1994 and I still can't figure them out.

Anyway, Nevada Barr has, for several years been writing a damned fine series of novels about roving park copper Pigeon. Interestingly, given the discussion of whether or not police procedurals shoul be included in the hard-boiled canon, the first Pigeon novel, TRACK OF THE CAT, won an "Agatha" as one of the best "cozy" mystery novels of the year. I don't think it counts as a cozy in any way. The crimes can be pretty vicious in a Pigeon novel, and Anna is too tough-talking, and hard-drinking (she's got a bit of a drinking problem in fact; shades of Blcok!) to qualify. She does tend to plot along
"classic-puzzle-whodunit" lines, but so did Brett Halliday, and, for that matter, Dashiell Hammett.

Unusually for a procedural series written by a cop, the Pigeon books show a definite left-ish sort of slant. But then, Ms. Barr apparently considered herself less of a cop then a ranger whose particular specialty happened to be law enforcement, an attitude her character seems to replicate.

Ms. Barr is, quite simply, one hell of a writer, and while I wouldn't say a word against her style, chracterization, dialog, or plotting, I'd have to say her greatest strength is sense of place. She makes readers feel as though they are in the parks she writes about, much as Tony Hillerman makes the Navajo Reservation so vividly real in his Reservation Police series.

My favorite book in the Pigeon series, so far, is BLIND DESCENT, set in the Carlsbad Caverns, which features the most suspenseful best cave sequences since Injun Joe chased Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher with murder in his eye.

Next week: The Big Apple.


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