by Bruce TierneyFebruary, 2003
Mystery of the month
February's Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to veteran storyteller Nevada Barr for her standout Flashback. In the latest Anna Pigeon adventure, the stalwart park ranger tends to business at Ft. Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, a small island outpost some 70 miles off Key West. In voluntary exile for a few months while she ponders a marriage proposal, Anna quickly finds herself going stir crazy in the remote idyll. Concerned about Anna's sanity, her sister Molly sends her a stash of old letters written by a distant relative shortly after the Civil War. It seems that Anna's great-great-aunt had spent time at Ft. Jefferson some 130 years prior, as the wife of the commandant. At the time, the fort had been a Union jail, home to the conspirators in the Abraham Lincoln assassination. A chapter by chapter counterpoint compares and contrasts living conditions then and now, and spins an interesting "what if?" regarding Lincoln's untimely demise. There is a contemporary crime (naturally), one complex enough to have carried the story singlehandedly, but it is the interplay between present and past that makes this novel so compelling. There are any number of competently written, fast-paced mystery novels out there; every now and then, one comes along that transcends the genre (among them, Sharyn McCrumb's She Walks These Hills and Ken Bruen's The Guards). Flashback is one of these rare novels.