RogerBW's Blog

Hard Truth, Nevada Barr 16 March 2016

2005 mystery, thirteenth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. In Rocky Mountain, three young girls went missing a few months back, and were never found. But now two of them have walked out of the woods…

It's interesting to see how Barr continues to try new things with this series, rather than fall into a rut of another book just like the last. Here we have a return to the dual-narrative style of Flashback, but this time the secondary narrator is contemporary: Heath Jarrod was an enthusiastic climber, until she took a bad fall and broke her spine. Now she's coming to terms with life in a wheelchair.

Not having gone through that process myself or known well anyone who has, I can't say how well the portrayal succeeds. It's sometimes a bit pat, as Heath finds something new to care about in place of the climbing she can no longer do, but it still felt reasonably plausible to me.

The two major strands, though, are two arms of the investigation of the returned girls. On the one side, there's the question of what happened to them, and where the third one is (and indeed whether she's still alive); that's mostly Anna's investigation. On the other, there's the question of what the two have gone back to, and whether the "church group" they were part of was something more sinister: that's Heath's side of the story.

The irreligious characters try hard to restrain their tendency to think the worst of a dodgy-looking faith-based community, especially when the local police department thinks they're just fine. This works pretty well, and if the arc's progress is somewhat predictable at least there's no pat answer to the problems that are inevitably uncovered.

Meanwhile, Anna's dealing with a genuine psychopath, and this book is probably the most gruesome of the series so far – going from tortured animals to an extended climactic sequence as Anna goes up against the murderer with nothing on her side but an eye to the main chance. This book struck me as going much further into the human-horror side than Barr has before, with the sort of glorying in details of nastiness that I normally dislike intensely; Barr's writing continues to be excellent, and that carried me over the worst of it, but it's not a direction I like.

What really seems to be missing is reference to other books. I assume that Barr's trying not to give away the plots of earlier stories to readers who are starting the series here, but there are parallels with her earlier cases, and it feels like a gap in the narrative when she doesn't think of them.

For me this was a step down after High Country. Followed by Winter Study.

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  1. Posted by chris at 11:22am on 16 March 2016

    When you write "young girls", what age does it mean? To me that would be children under the age of ten, or less, but I note that in publisher-speak (and I think also red-top-speak) these days it may mean "adolescent females under the age of sixteen" or even "women of eighteen", and so it now needs clarification.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:34am on 16 March 2016

    In this case, aged twelve or thirteen.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:40pm on 16 March 2016

    I'd call twelve or thirteen year olds "teenage girls" or possibly adolescent, to me "young girls" means under about ten as Chris says.

    What is a "red-top"? I can't make sense of "red-top-speak".

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 01:45pm on 16 March 2016

    British tabloid newspapers, back when that was a meaningful distinction.

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