When it comes to a vibrant sense of place Barr has few equals, as demonstrated in her 11th Anna Pigeon novel, set in little-known Dry Tortugas National Park, a small group of islands 70 miles off Key West.
Running from a proposal of marriage from Sheriff Paul Davidson, Anna Pigeon takes a post as a temporary supervisory ranger on remote Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park, a small grouping of tiny islands in a natural harbor seventy miles off Key West. This island paradise has secrets it would keep; not just in the present, but in shadows from its gritty past, when it served as a prison for the Lincoln conspirators during and after the Civil War.
Here, on this last lick of the United States, in a giant crumbling fortress, Anna has little company except for the occasional sunburned tourist or unruly shrimper. When her sister, Molly, sends her a packet of letters from a great-great-aunt who lived at the fort with her husband, a career soldier, Anna's fantasy life is filled with visions of this long-ago time.
When a mysterious boat explodes-- the discovery of unidentifiable body parts--keeps her anchored to the present, Anna finds crimes of past and present closing in on her. A tangled web that was woven before she arrived begins to threaten her sanity and her life. Cut off from the mainland by miles of water, poor phone service, and sketchy radio contact, and aided by one law-enforcement ranger, Anna must find answers or weather a storm to rival the hurricanes for which the islands are famous.
In Her Own Words, by Nevada Barr
I met Anna Pigeon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas the summer of 1990. It was my second season with the park service and I was working as a law enforcement ranger there. Before that I had written four novels, two not too bad, one even got published. With Anna I experience what minor miracle writers' talk about: I found my voice. With the creation of the Anna Pigeon character, I began writing close to the bone, mixing a great deal of myself into my people, places and things. Writing became a joy, a blessing, it all made sense.
In 1995 I retired from the park service to devote myself to writing full time well, not full time; there's a great deal of goofing off required of retired government workers. Since then I have written about parks from California to Florida and had a grand time doing it. Anna (and I) have aged and changed along the way. In the beginning we were very alike but the evolution of the soul of a character and that of a person cannot be controlled with any great precision. Now Anna is her own woman but still, when I write her, I have that hard-wired connection that keeps her alive for me, and, one hopes, for those who read my books. In each book I have tried to find a new challenge for the both of us: a situation unexplored, an emotional world I've not yet touched, a writing style I've always admired.
In Flashback, the eleventh in the series, I took a great leap of faith and tried my hand at a historical mystery. I am a great affectionado of the Old Dead English authors, reading and rereading Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Trollope, Collins, Wodehouse. Historicals, Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, Steven Saylor, Charles Todd, Laurie King and a handful of others I await each year with great anticipation. In Flashback, I took Anna to Dry Tortugas, a strange and wonderful park seventy miles off of Key West. Dry Tortugas has the magic, not only of a rich and diverse sea life, but of a dramatic history. On Garden Key, a tiny scrap of land less than ten acres in its entirety is a Civil War fort. It was kept by the Union during the war and served as the military prison where the Lincoln conspirators were incarcerated after the assassination. How could I resist?
As there are over three-hundred-fifty national parks and monuments in the system, I have job security. As there are at least twice that many facets to every woman's personality, how could I possibly get bored? I hope this latest in the Anna Pigeon series finds favor with my readers, that they enjoy reading the historical theme as much as I did writing it.
Until she ran out of oxygen, Anna was willing to believe she was taking part in a PBS special. The water was so clear sunlight shone through as if the sea were but mountain air. Cloud shadows, stealthy and faintly magical at four fathoms, moved lazily across patches of sand that showed startlingly white against the dark, ragged coral. Fishes colored so brightly it seemed it must be a trick of the eye or the tail end of an altered state flitted, nibbled, explored and slept. Without moving, Anna could see a school of silver fish, tiny anchovies, synchronized, moving like polished chain mail in a glittering curtain. Four Blue Tangs, so blue her eyes ached with the joy of them, nosed along the edge of a screamingly purple sea fan bigger than a coffee table. A jewfish, six feet long and easily three hundred pounds, his blotchy hide mimicking the sun-dappled rock, pouting lower lip thick as Anna's wrist, lay without moving beneath an overhang of a coral-covered rock less ...
If you liked Flashback, try these:
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"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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