ÊDeep South, the latest installment in the wildly popular Anna Pigeon series, finds our intrepid park ranger assigned to the Natchez Trace Parkway in rural Mississippi. In the wee hours of the morning, as she pilots her Rambler (can she be the only heroine in history who drives a Rambler?) through the pre-dawn gloom, she spies a hand painted sign nailed to a tree: REPENT. Then another, this one riddled with bullet holes: REPENT; FINAL WARNING. Anna has been on the road for 22 hours straight, surely a record for a Rambler, en route from her last posting at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and she is beginning to have the unsettling feeling that she has made a mistake.
Her meager possessions unloaded from a small U-Haul trailer, Anna settles in to her role as district ranger. As is usually the case in Barr's novels (and Anna's life), things don't stay quiet for long. It seems a local high school girl has gone missing on prom night. When Anna's black lab, Taco, unearths a bloody scarf near the site of a recent disturbance, Anna suspects the worst. Her fears are borne out with the discovery of a girl's body, hastily disposed of in the deep woods. The bloody sheet over the girl's head, Ku Klux Klan style, has the earmarks of a political bombshell.
The plot thickens as Anna discovers that the Caucasian victim was carrying on a secret (well, not entirely) relationship with a black college football hero. Add to that the fact that her prom date, an obnoxious white jock, is withholding information on the crime, and you have the beginnings of a case that could have racial implications far beyond the boundaries of Mississippi.
Several of the persistent regional stereotypes are addressed in Deep South, including Civil War reenactments, old time religion, the lingering racial prejudices on both sides of the color line, and even the high school girls' predilection for wearing copious quantities of cosmetics. As with the previous Anna Pigeon novels, Deep South is fast-paced and well-crafted. Ms. Barr is on familiar ground here, as she makes her home in Mississippi, and has served as a park ranger in the Natchez Trace Parkway area.
Bruce Tierney is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee.