National Park Mysteries

Rocky Springs Methodist ChurchAfter my vacation trip up the Natchez Trace last year, my little sister said, “So have you read the Anna Pigeon mystery novels about the Trace?”

Who knew that there were Anna Pigeon mysteries about the Natchez Trace? And who is this Anna Pigeon anyway? It was a mystery! I had to find out more…

In the series of books, Anna Pigeon is a National Park ranger. As she gets transferred from one park to the next, she solves murder mysteries. She’s a Law Enforcement ranger, not one of those wimpy Interpretive types. She carries a gun and arrests folks. Along the way, she tends to get beat up quite a bit. There’s a score of these books, so she must be walking with a pretty good limp by now.

I’ve only read 2 of the books. I like them. I can already make out the general formula for the books. It’s not all that restricting. Basically, bad things happen. You get to know some people. Not everybody is helpful. Even some co-workers aren’t trustworthy. (Bad Park Rangers? Heaven forbid!) And there’s often a pet around somewhere. And then as part of the denoument, she gets beat up really bad, yet still manages to save the day.

Sure, there’s plenty of descriptions of the scenery. Some of it stuff that park visitors never get to see. But it’s not as much as I’d hoped. That’s OK, because this is a mystery, not a travelogue.

The first one I read was Deep South. At first I was disappointed that there wasn’t more description of sites along the Trace. I mean, there’s a burnt-down southern  mansion not far off it. And pancake stacks of waterfalls. And Indian mounds galore.  In the night, in real life, my wife and I walked right past the murder site. Finally I realized that scenery isn’t really what the Natchez Trace is all about, nor this book. It’s the history and the culture and the people of the place.

My next try was Hard Truth, which takes place in Rocky Mountain National Park. The included description was closer to what I was expecting. But, boy, you really have to pay for it. The story is a little more complicated here, with two interwoven plot lines, and two similar yet forever different protagonists.

The author, Nevada Barr, is a former National Park Enforcement Ranger. Go figure. So she knows her stuff. She’s really good at getting into other people’s heads. And she does trickle in some tricks of the trade: how silence forces people to talk more than questioning, facial movements to watch for when people are lying. (BTW, did you know that the contents of backcountry toilets have to be packed out? I hope they use mules or something more substantial than someone with a backpack.)

And when you’re done, it kinda feels like you’ve been there.

In both books, I knew who the killer was before Anna did. But apparently she doesn’t read mystery books, so I had the upper hand. In one case, I didn’t know the motive. Once Anna figured that out, and showed it to me, then we were both good. In the other one, even though I knew who did it, Nevada Barr convinced me I was wrong about two thirds of the way thru. I didn’t realize that I’d been hornswaggled till Anna figured out that it really was who I’d said it was.

So the mysteries are fair and don’t cheat.

I’ve chosen randomly among the lot, starting about halfway thru the series, then jumping another 25% forward. Next I’ve really got to start with the first one. But I dont’ think that being out of sequence will hurt very much. While each book is connected to the previous adventures, they seem to telegraph enough that you can keep up to speed.

I’m starting to think that more books should be in the mystery format. Just to spice things up a little. It would work for Hamlet, the Danish Detective. Tom Sawyer Private Eye seems a natural. Pride and Prejudice and Poison anyone?

About Lyle Verbilion

I'm just wanderin' around lookin' at things. Wow.
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