THE ROPE by Nevada Barr

The Rope is Nevada Barr’s 17th Anna Pigeon mystery. It’s a prequel that goes back to 1995 when Anna Pigeon was first hired by the National Park Service as a seasonal worker. She’s 35 and fresh from New York City, still numb from the shock of her husband Zack’s death (he was hit by a cab). Zack was an actor and Anna a stage manager. She loved her husband and loved her job and had to get away from it all.

Anna finds herself working as a seasonal in the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area cleaning up the poop of human visitors and monitoring the fecal level of the water. Anna is pasty, skinny, wears all black, and doesn’t know the first thing about living in the great outdoors. She sees life and events through the lens of her experience in the theater, which adds not only fun for the reader, but actual help for Anna.

When we first encounter Anna in The Rope she’s trapped at the bottom of a deep hole in the ground; She’s completely naked, wounded, and already dangerously dehydrated. I felt guilty laying in the comfort of my bed, sipping coffee while Anna suffered. Is someone trying to kill her or cover up another murder or two? Not to give any spoilers or anything–this is, after all, a prequel to the 16 other books in the series so we know Anna lives and becomes a ranger–Anna ends up getting strong and learning how to survive and thrive in the great outdoors.

There’s a strong lesbian element and character in this book (Jenny, Anna’s roommate and boss). This was satisfying to me and will be to some other readers because I know I’m not the only one who had hoped, in the early years of the series, that Anna would end up lesbian and/or bisexual. That doesn’t happen but it was refreshing to see a relatively “healthy” lesbian character who is central to the storyline in an American mystery novel.

Long-time readers of the series will enjoy this book and I think new readers to the series will fall in love with Anna Pigeon. And if you haven’t read an Anna Pigeon mystery before, this would be a perfectly fine one with which to start.

Each book of the series is set in a different national park, which feels like a mini-vacation as you’re reading. Well, other than some murders and Anna getting knocked around a bit. Barr thoroughly uses the unique landscape of each National Park in her novels. In some of the novels the landscape even seems like a character itself.

About five or so books ago the Anna Pigeon novels started to turn a bit darker in tone and content as Barr explores how violence against women and children permeates our culture, so note that these are not exactly cozy mysteries, but they’re not gratuitously violent or gory.

Author: Nevada Barr
Publisher: Minotaur, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-61457-7
My Goodreads rating: 5/5
Recommend to: mystery readers who like strong female leads and outdoorsy folks.

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