Best-selling author Nevada Barr is well known for her unique mystery series featuring national park ranger Anna Pigeon. Beginning with the award-winning Track of the Cat (1993), set in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, the Anna Pigeon novels have treated readers to the unique scenic beauty of an array of national parks scattered across the country. Seventeen books later, we’re still enjoying Ranger Pigeon’s thrilling adventures set in both backcountry and urban park settings.
Barr’s latest, Destroyer Angel, is an adventure of a different kind, set in the wilds of Minnesota’s Iron Range, where Anna is on a camping trip with four friends. Taking off by herself for a bit of solitude, the ranger is away from the campsite when four armed men take her companions hostage and set off with them through the wilderness toward an airfield rendezvous. One of the captives is a wealthy designer of high-tech outdoor equipment, and big money appears to figure largely as a motive in the kidnapping. The gang’s leader, called simply “Dude,” displays an oddly single-minded, steely determination to complete his errand. However, unbeknownst to the gang, Anna keeps up with the trekkers from a hidden vantage point, and she clearly holds the key to rescuing the prisoners.
Barr (a former park ranger herself) is a fine and engaging writer, and her books have never failed to capture the grandeur of her wilderness locales. Here, however, wilderness takes a back seat as we’re bludgeoned page after page with the message that these are really bad guys. The negative adjectives add up to overkill, contrasting with images of the selfless prisoners falling over themselves to lend a hand and save each other. The good-vs-evil theme soon wears thin.
Lucky for us, the four gangsters don’t know from wilderness, and they quickly fall prey to the power of spooky suggestions introduced by the hostages. This, and the advantage of Anna’s hidden presence and activities in the background, contributes to a gradual weakening of their power over the prisoners.
Readers of Barr’s usually stellar novels will not be deterred from adding this adventure to their must-read lists, and the inventive plot will serve to see us through to her next adventure.