I am a big fan of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, but have felt that the most recent novels have lacked something that previous books had. I’ve still enjoyed them, but not as much. Nevada Barr is a former park ranger with a great love of the outdoors, and reading her books is a great way to vicariously visit public parks and lands in the United States.
In Destroyer Angel, Anna Pigeon is back in form. I read this book in one afternoon on a train (interrupted only by lunch and Henry V performed by Chicago Shakespeare). My stress and anxiety level was high as I raced through it.
Anna has always been the model of a strong empowered woman, and this book kicks that up a notch. Five women go camping. They include Anna (a park ranger on vacation); a genius scientist designer of camping equipment with a touch or Asperger’s or something similar; her attitudinal teenaged daughter; a woman paralyzed from the waist down; and her adopted teenaged daughter who survived a run-in with a psychopath years before. There is an elderly dog along for good measure.
While Anna is off canoeing on her own, four armed men come into camp on a mission. They take the four women captive and believe their story that the fifth woman cancelled at the last minute. Although they are being paid to kidnap only the scientist and her daughter, they are convinced to keep the other two alive for ransom. They plan to get the women out of the woods to an airstrip. Anna hears the fuss and begins planning the best way to save her friends and defeat the villains.
Anna’s husband hardly appears in this book, which is a welcome change. I don’t dislike him but he’s just not all that interesting. (I preferred previous beau Fred the Fed.) All the males that figure heavily in this story are bad (with the exception of the dog). The women react to the trials of marching through the forest at gunpoint (and being beaten, shot, and burned) in differing ways, but all prove their mettle before the book ends. And Anna stalks her prey with a clear head and a cold heart.
“Losing their trail, or keeping up with the thugs, was not a concern. Regardless of no food and a gimpy dog, the day she could not follow a pack of city boys through the woods would be the day she’d find an ice floe upon which to sit and wait for a polar bear with her name on it.” (p. 95)
Sure, there are some plot points that stretch credulity, but not so far they undermine the thrill of the chase. Anna is small and middle-aged, but she just keeps coming, and her behavior at every stop of the way is believable. The four women and the four thugs are all well drawn and developed. Barr makes great use of the environment – upstate Minnesota – as she does in all her books. Her descriptions are so real you feel like you are hiding behind that rock with Anna, waiting to kill a man in cold blood.
The tension starts early and keeps building until near the end. If you are a fan of Anna Pigeon, you definitely need to read this book. If you are a mystery fan or like to read about strong female characters and haven’t yet found Anna Pigeon, get started! The first book in the series is Track of the Cat. The Galesburg Public Library has the entire Anna Pigeon series, including Destroyer Angel.