RogerBW's Blog

Borderline, Nevada Barr 05 February 2017

2009 mystery, fifteenth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. After the events of the last book, Anna's on administrative leave; she travels with her husband to the Rio Grande for a rafting trip. They come across a nearly-dead, very pregnant woman; and apparently someone wants to finish the job.

This book calls back in some ways to the first, Track of the Cat: once more Anna is in an uncomfortable mental place, but this time the wilderness isn't going to do the trick of making her better. On the other hand we finally see her spending some time with Paul Davidson, her husband – at least until he's pushed off elsewhere so that she has to deal with things all on her own as usual. Previous stories have blended human and environmental threats (animals, weather, etc.), but after one fine early sequence on the river the problems here are entirely human, and that's a shame since it loses one of the distinctive features of the series.

Things feel sloppy. There's confusion about east and west. One character is given a different name for a single scene. People who've been through a challenging physical ordeal aren't shipped off to hospital; they're just left to get on with recovering on their own. Anna does something impressive and gory, and everyone else just stands around and watches. (Yes, they're physically exhausted, but even so.) Anna falls for a trick she's fallen for before in this series, and she really should have learned from the last time that happened. The idea that pregnant Mexican women try to cross the border to get birthright citizenship for their children, or that Anna has experienced a sudden change of feeling as a result of being landed with a particular responsibility, is repeated again and again.

This is a book that suffers from its form: because it's a mystery, we know that the villain will turn out to be someone we've met rather than a character introduced at the last moment. From among that limited set of people, it rapidly becomes obvious just where blame will have to lie, and a character will have to be bent thoroughly out of shape to make it work. There's a dual narrative viewpoint, the other from the chief of security for the mayor of Houston, who's there for a political event; my feeling is that by book 15 in a series your readers probably like your primary character and want to spend time with her, not hear about this other guy. (It also gives the reader information not available to Anna, which feels like cheating.)

It's, well, OK, I guess. But lots of books are better than OK. After the number of recent books that haven't really made the grade, I feel no particular desire to continue with this series. Followed by Burn.

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