RogerBW's Blog

Firestorm, Nevada Barr 15 July 2016

1996 mystery, fourth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Anna's called in to help fight a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the wind shifts and a firestorm overtakes the team. When they come out of their protective tents, one of them's been stabbed in the back.

Perversely for a story taking place in the wide open spaces, this is a very closed-in book, taking place in and around the fire front, with very limited access to the outside world (fallen d├ębris and thick fog prevent a rescue, so Anna's stuck with the team even after the fire has passed). We're thrown in at the deep end with a large cast of characters who are often tricky to differentiate, working hard and without much time to get to know each other. This was the book's biggest problem for me: too many people, not enough development, and a synthetically closed environment harking after the isolated country house.

An odd diversion has occasional chapters given to Frederick Stanton, the FBI agent who first met Anna in A Superior Death and may be on his way to becoming involved with her, as he follows the news from outside and helps with the investigation, though their only communication is by easily-overheard phone calls. It's odd because there's no big reunion scene at the end of the book, so all the build-up seems to be wasted. This makes slightly more sense later in the series.

Really, the description of the firestorm itself is the strong point here, and that's over all too soon; the rest is picking through motives without access to real information. It's an intriguing idea, but doesn't quite work for me. Followed by Endangered Species.

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