Summer is here in all but fact, the season when most people take vacations. If you grew up in the United States, the odds are that your vacation history includes one or more of our National Parks. That’s great! The National Park system is a great idea: beautiful spaces owned by and open to the public. The only problem, for the addicted reader, is you can’t look at the natural beauty while you’re reading a book. I mean, as much as I adore the outdoors, I start jonesing for a good story to read, even when I’m face to face with the Grand Canyon or El Capitan. Of course, the second my face turns to the book, I feel guilty about ignoring Nature. I can’t enjoy both together.
At least I thought so until my friend, Edna, introduced me to the Anna Pigeon mystery series by Nevada Barr. Why are those books the solution? Because Anna Pigeon is a Park Ranger and each of her adventures occurs in a National Park. Let’s start out with the first book in the series, the award-winning Track of the Cat. It’s set in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a spot my folks dragged me to when I was small. It’s a beautiful, barren, desert kind of place, full of antiquities and cactus. That’s the world the tourists see. To Anna Pigeon, Park Ranger and heroine of the series, the park is so much more.
Of course, she sees the land and its animals: beautiful, terrifying, vulnerable and dangerous. She also sees the Park’s human visitors. There are the ill-prepared, day-tripping tourists and permanent neighbors who have their own agendas for Park land. Anna also sees the word of Park Service employees many of whom work for a pittance in order to keep the land and its visitors safe. When another Ranger is found dead, it becomes Anna’s mission to bring the responsible party to justice.
Like all good literary detectives, Anna is at least as complex as the victims and perpetrators she pursues and that’s why I’m continuing with the series. Thanks to Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta and Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, I’ve started expecting fictional detectives to fight City Hall and their own personal demons while they track down a killer. On this score, Nevada Barr and Anna Pigeon don’t disappoint.
So, get out the map and decide which vacation spot you’ll visit this year. Remember to pack your camera, bug repellent, and a big enough water canteen. And, if you’re visiting a National Park, be nice to the Rangers, especially if they catch you reading an Anna Pigeon mystery. Park Rangers need fans too.