RogerBW's Blog

Winter Study, Nevada Barr 13 October 2016

2008 mystery, fourteenth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Anna returns to Isle Royale, this time in winter, to join the wolf/moose wildlife study; it's disrupted by an observer from Homeland Security, who clearly has a brief to shut it down and instead open the park in winter to "beef up security". Then traces of an unexpected large predator show up. Then people start to die.

Barr continues to try to keep this series from getting into a rut, and while she doesn't mess about with multiple narrators this time, there are distinct innovations in plotting: there are several distinct plots going on, and if any one of them hadn't happened then most of the tragedy might have been avoided.

It's not hard to sort out the strange goings-on into distinct categories, though who's responsible for what is rather less obvious. There's plenty of the visceral nastiness that was in Hard Truth, but this time it made sense in the context of events, and I was more inclined to forgive it. I can't really claim to be consistent about this; it may just be that I hit this book in a better mood for dealing with such things.

One of the weaker points, in fact, is what Anna's doing here; readers of Hard Truth will know why she has a professional interest in wolves, but joining the study rather than reading its reports seems like an extreme step, and she doesn't bring the professional qualifications or experience of the others on the team. (Though given her background and experience she really should be spotting certain things far sooner than she does.) She makes one particular hard moral choice bayl sbe rirelguvat gb raq hc whfg nf vg jbhyq unir vs fur'q pubfra gur bgure jnl, bayl jvgu zber cnva naq fhssrevat, though it's not clear if she realises this once it's all over.

This would be a locked island mystery, except that the wolves can come and go, and in theory particularly persistent humans could too.

The writing continues to be Barr's strong point, both in the descriptions of outdoor life (and one of Anna's real strengths as a character is the ability to see the beauty in wilderness even while slogging through it under a heavy pack, or trying to survive a killer's attacks) and in the action scenes. Rather than the single big set-piece of earlier books, we get one early scene with Anna on loose ice, and an extended series of climactic scenes when most of the mystery has become clear.

It's a little unfortunate that, now that Anna has (in theory) found happiness in her marriage, the readers don't get to see any of it. All that's here is the start of one phone call.

For me this isn't as enthralling as the early books, but it's an improvement on Hard Truth and I'm still interested to see where Barr takes this series. Followed by Borderline.

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