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Excerpt from Deep South by Nevada Barr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Deep South

by Nevada Barr

Deep South by Nevada Barr X
Deep South by Nevada Barr
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2000, 352 pages

    Feb 2001, 368 pages


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Print Excerpt

It was Anna's turn to look blank. "Going to the Natchez Trace?" she asked hopefully.

"Nope," Daddy said.

"You're going nowhere," Baby added helpfully.

"That's pretty much it," Daddy confirmed.

"One of the rangers I talked to on the phone said this was a shortcut."

Daddy and Baby found that inordinately amusing. Gratitude was fading, but Anna hadn't the energy to replace it with anything but pathos so she maintained her good cheer. At least outwardly.

"What you want is Highway 27 out of Vicksburg," Baby told her, and aimed a stream of tobacco juice politely the other way. "Where you're at starts out as Old Black Road and ends up as nothing down on the river. It's where me and Daddy goes fishing. All's down there is moccasins and mosquitoes."

"I must have read the directions wrong," Anna said.

"Way wrong. Those old boys was having a joke and you were it," Daddy said succinctly. "You go on a couple miles'n you'll see a place to turn around. Then you go back the way you come twenty miles or so. You'll find 27. If you hit the interstate, you gone too far."

Anna thanked them again. They waited. She waited. Then she realized they weren't leaving till they saw her safe in her car and on her way. Having loaded Taco, she climbed in the Rambler and pulled back into the twisted night.

Daddy was right. She'd not misread the directions; she'd followed them to the letter. One of her rangers wasn't anxious to see her arrive: Randy Thigpen, a GS-9 field ranger she'd be supervising. Anna wished she could dredge up some surprise at the petty betrayal, but she was too old and too cynical. Nobody involved in the hiring process had come right out and said anything, and in these days of rampant litigation and gender skirmishes, they wouldn't dare. But she'd heard the subtext in the pauses. There'd never been a female law enforcement ranger on the far southern end of the Trace, and there'd never been a female district ranger in any of the nine districts and four hundred fifty odd miles of the parkway. It had been unofficially deemed too conservative, too old-fashioned for such an alarming development. From the gossip she'd picked up, she was hired because she was known to have an "edge." She was an experiment. They would find if she was to be a cat among the pigeons or the other way around. The "old-fashioned" people, Anna had thought, would be the park visitors. Randy Thigpen evidently wanted to carry the experiment into the office.

Jump off that bridge when you come to it, she told herself.

When she finally found her way onto the Trace, the sun was rising and, with it, her spirits. The vague picture she'd formed in her mind of a bleak and dusty place, overfarmed by sharecroppers, dotted with shacks and broken-down vehicles, was shattered in a rainbow brilliance of flowers. "Wake up, Taco," she said, nudging the beast with her knee. "Hang your head out the window or something useful. The place looks like it's been decorated for a wedding."

The Natchez Trace Parkway, a two-lane road slated, when finished, to run from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, had been the brainchild of the Ladies' Garden Clubs in the south. Besides preserving a unique part of the nation's past, the federal government had believed, building the Trace would pump money, jobs and a paved road into what was then a depressed area. Unlike other scenic parkways, such as the Blue Ridge in Tennessee or the John D. Rockefeller Jr. National Parkway in Wyoming, the Trace would not be based on spectacular scenery but would conserve the natural and agricultural history of Mississippi. It would follow and, where possible, preserve the original trail made through the swamps and forest by Kentucks, entrepreneurs out of what would become Kentucky, walking back home after rafting goods down the Mississippi to be sold at the port in Natchez, and by the outlaws who preyed upon them, by Indians trading and warring and finally by soldiers of the Union Army bent on bringing the South to heel.

Reprinted from Deep South by Nevada Barr by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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