RogerBW's Blog

Hunting Season, Nevada Barr 08 November 2014

Tenth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Back on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, a body's been found in an old plantation house, left in a manner suggestive of sexual homicide.

This is the first of the novels that's returned to a previous location, and this is both good and bad. Earlier books have tended to set the scene with lyrical descriptions of something that's new both to Anna and to the reader, and there's rather less of that here.

What replaces it is, all too often, a grinding sense of the nastiness of the South. Whether it's the deer-poaching good ol' boy hunters, the local funeral home director angling for a position as sheriff, or the long legacy of slavery, the sense of grime is inescapable. All right, these haven't always been light books, but before now there's generally been an air that grottiness is an exception rather than a way of life. That the Parkway is basically a human construct doesn't help, since there's rather less of the wilderness at which this series excels.

There's misdirection, as there is in any mystery story, but this time somewhat heavy-handed: when someone says "we know A, which might among other things imply B" and someone else says "ah, B, well that must mean C", we know we're being sent down a false trail. Everything does fit together in the end, but I was slightly annoyed at being led to the correct conclusion by the writing style rather than just by the evidence; after all, knowledge that this is a mystery is information not available to the in-story detective. It feels as though I wasn't able to play fair.

But that wasn't enough to spoil my pleasure in the book. Nor was Anna's trusting of a person she really shouldn't, with plenty of signs to warn her off; she gets into a bad situation largely by blurting out something she shouldn't over an open radio, and that seemed very out of character for her. Yes, all right, she gets herself out of it, and that's good.

There's a moderate amount of action, mostly spaced out among scenes of detection and routine work which sometimes let the pace sag a little. A scene on the road is particularly effective.

In terms of series continuity, there's still very little of Anna's sister Molly, who's largely dropped out of the series since Liberty Falling. We do get more of Anna's relationship with sheriff/priest Paul Davidson, introduced in Deep South, and this develops in a satisfying manner without distracting from the main story.

Followed by Flashback.

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