Nevada Barr has created one of the most interesting heroines in her novels. Anna Pigeon, a national park ranger, has various weaknesses but many off-setting strengths which will save her life as well as the lives of others around her.
In Blind Descent, Anna is sent from her home park in Mesa Verde, Colorado, to Carlsbad Caverns National Park where a fellow ranger has been injured. At first, Anna thinks she will only be a liaison to the press, but she soon learns that the caver in question is an old friend, Frieda Diertz, who specifically asks for her help.
Anna is an experienced climber of mountainsides and bluffs but she is deathly afraid of the small enclosed spaces and tight corridors of caves that she has often heard about from fellow park workers. She manages to swallow her fears, however, and joins the rescue team of several cavers, all experienced in the work ahead. The work will be in Lechuguilla Cavern, a part of the Carlsbad park complex. "Lech" is a monster man-eating cave; it is dangerous business going down and even tougher getting back out. Anna discovers that only 90 miles of the cave have been explored, and it is estimated that hundreds of miles remain unmapped. Frieda was on a survey team when injured.
After an eight-hour journey into a dark and bottomless hell, Anna and the others reach Frieda, who is barely lucid. She is, however, lucid enough to confide to Anna that her situation was no accident.
On the way out of the dangerous Lechuguilla, there is a cave-in and both Anna and Frieda are sent flying amid debris. When things clear, Frieda is dead and Anna is beside herself with feelings of guilt.
Once out of the cave, Anna can't get over the secret Frieda shared with her before she died. She becomes convinced that foul play is indeed involved, a theory that is reinforced when she travels to another place in the park, finding a man who has been shot and while she is shot at several times herself.
Though park officials scoff at her idea that a murderer is on the loose, Anna puts all her skills to work proving what she knows to be true. How she goes about it makes for an exciting journey in suspense and good detective work.
Nevada Barr is a heck of a writer, lyrical at times and gut-wrenching at others. Blind Descent is bound to make the bestseller lists around the country.
Reviewed by Lloyd Armour.