Rebuilding a life amid a stunning landscape

Jan 29 2012 - 4:58pm

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"THE ROPE." by Nevada Barr. Minotaur. $25.99.

Since 1993, Nevada Barr has given readers solid, intriguing tours of America's national parks from Texas to Michigan to the Florida Keys, including an urban national park in New Orleans, via her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon. In this series, readers have been swept up by the vistas, the breathtaking beauty of nature and by the ruthlessness of man. The petite Anna -- fearless, resilient, insightful -- has proven to be an exceptional guide.

Barr's 17th novel goes back to Anna's past for a gripping, suspenseful story about why she decided to become a park ranger and what led to her complicated persona. "The Rope" is more than a trip down memory lane, it is a tightly coiled story about trust and rebuilding a life, set against a stunning landscape.

Anna is 35 when she arrives by bus from New York City to spend the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.

Older than the other "seasonal" workers, Anna keeps to herself, not joining the daily potlucks nor gossiping nightly on the porch, nor making friends, not even with her housemate, Jenny Gorman. What they don't know is Anna is in a deep state of grief over the recent death of her husband. Working the parks can be grueling and isolating and many summer workers end up quitting with no notice. Which is what the other workers think happened to Anna when she doesn't show up for work a couple of weeks into her job. Her bag and few clothes are gone so she must have hopped a bus back to New York City.

Instead, Anna went hiking by herself and languishes at the bottom of a solution hole, a dry, natural well caused by softening of limestone. But Anna didn't just fall -- she was pushed. She's down there naked, with water that has been drugged and a horrific discovery. There doesn't seem to be any way out nor anyone around to hear her scream.

Barr keeps Anna's claustrophobic time in the hole suspenseful, as Anna tries to remember what happened and attempts to free herself. Back at the workers' residence, Jenny uncovers clues that Anna may not have left.

Barr's affection for and knowledge of national parks continues to imbue her series with a strong sense of place. Anna's maturation from a timid, grief-stricken widow to a strong, uncompromising woman with a new plan for her life adds to "The Rope's" power.

-- Oline H. Cogdill

Sun Sentinel

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