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 pretty good that your vacation history involves one or more of our National Parks. That’s great! The National Park system is one of the smartest, most democratic ideas this country put into place: beautiful spaces are preserved so they can be used by everyone, at an affordable price. The only problem, for the addicted reader, is how all that natural beauty can get between your eyes and a book. I mean, as much as I adore the magnificence of nature, (and I do) 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 minute I bury my face in a book, I feel guilty because I’m not paying attention to the gorgeous Park. It’s a no-win situation
At least I thought it was until my friend, Edna, introduced me to Nevada Barr. In case you haven’t heard, Nevada Barr is the writer of the Anna Pigeon mystery series. Why are her books the solution? Because Anna Pigeon is a 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 I’d swear my folks dragged me to when they were young and broke. It’s a beautiful, barren, deserty 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 deals with the Park’s human visitors, from the ill-prepared, day-tripping tourists to the semi-permanent citizens with political or economic interests in this land that belongs to the nation. Most of all we see, through Anna’s eyes, the world of those who work in the National Park Service, well-trained and working for a pittance in order to keep the rest of us 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.