Blood Lure (Anna Pigeon Series #9)by Nevada Barr
Straddling the border between Montana and Canada lies the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park—Anna’s home away from home when she is sent on a cross-training assignment to study grizzly bears. Along with bear researcher Joan Rand and a volatile, unpredictable teenage boy, Anna hikes the back country, seeking signs of bear. But the tables are
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Straddling the border between Montana and Canada lies the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park—Anna’s home away from home when she is sent on a cross-training assignment to study grizzly bears. Along with bear researcher Joan Rand and a volatile, unpredictable teenage boy, Anna hikes the back country, seeking signs of bear. But the tables are turned on their second night out, when one of the beasts comes looking for them. Daybreak finds the boy missing, a camper mutilated, and Anna caught in a grip of fear, painfully aware that her lifelong bond with nature has inexplicably snapped…
Nevada Barr's Blood Lure once again features Anna Pigeon, the likeable, slightly misanthropic heroine of nine increasingly popular mysteries, all set against the lovingly evoked backdrop of America's National Parks. This time out, Anna -- a law enforcement officer and peripatetic Ranger -- finds herself detached from her regular duties in Mississippi's Natchez Trace Park and assigned to a research project in Northern Montana. The project, which involves collecting DNA samples from the indigenous bear population of Glacier National Park, seems, at first, like an idyllic interlude. But the idyll comes to an abrupt end when murder, mayhem, and human malfeasance rear their ugly heads.
The novel begins on a peaceful note as Anna, accompanied by veteran bear researcher Joan Rand and teenage Earthwatch volunteer Rory Van Slyke, tracks her quarry through the rugged beauty of the Montana landscape. In the middle of their second night out, a large, apparently savage grizzly bear attacks the researchers' campsite. When the dust settles, Joan and Anna find themselves shaken but unscathed. Rory, however, has disappeared, having fled into the surrounding forest in a blind, headlong panic. When dawn comes, Park Service personnel conduct a full-scale search, in the course of which they locate not just Rory but the corpse of a mutilated woman. The woman's neck has been broken, and large sections of her face have been carefully carved away.
The dead woman is eventually identified as Carolyn Van Slyke, Rory's abusive -- and highly promiscuous -- stepmother. Rory, of course, becomes an immediate suspect, as does his father, the pathetic, browbeaten Lester Van Slyke. Two other candidates rapidly materialize: a teenage hiker who calls himself Geoffrey Micholson, and William McCaskil, a professional con man with a host of aliases and an extensive criminal record. Faced with a crime that offers too many suspects and too little concrete evidence, Anna abandons her DNA research project and throws herself into a protracted -- and dangerous -- homicide investigation.
The narrative evolves into a devious, ingeniously plotted mystery whose numerous clues are casually and cleverly scattered throughout the text. Blood Lure, however, is a great deal more than just a well-constructed thriller. It is also a powerful evocation of the natural world, and its recreation of the complex ecology of Glacier National Park is precise, detailed, and absolutely convincing. Equally convincing is Barr's ongoing portrait of Anna Pigeon, a smart, self-sufficient woman who is much more at home in the world of wild animals than in the predatory society of men. She is a credible, sympathetic heroine with heart, brains, and hidden depths. It's a pleasure encountering her once again.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
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Chapter 1With the exception of a nine-week-old Australian shepherd puppy, sniffing and whining as if he'd discovered a treasure chest and sought a way inside, everyone was politely pretending Anna didn't stink. Under the tutelage of Joan Rand, the biologist overseeing Glacier's groundbreaking bear DNA project, Anna had spent the morning in an activity so vile even garbage men had given her wide berth, holding their noses in awe. Near Glacier National Park's sewage processing plant, behind an eight-foot chain-link fence sporting two electrified wires, and further protected in an aluminum shed the size of an old two-holer outhouse wrapped in six more strands of electrical fencing, lay the delights the excited black and white pup whiffed: two fifty-gallon drums filled with equal parts cows' blood and fish flotsam, heated and left to steep for two and a half months in what was referred to as the "brew shed." Joan, apparently born without a gag reflex, had cheerfully taught Anna how to strain fish bits out with one hand while ladling red-black liquid into one-liter plastic bottles with the other. "Fingers work best," Rand had said. "Pure research; the glamour never stops." With that, she had flashed Anna small, crooked, very white teeth in a grin that, in other circumstances, might have been contagious. Standing now in the offices of the science lab, the puppy beginning to lick her boot laces, Anna was glad she'd not succumbed to the temptation to smile back. Had she done so, her teeth would probably be permeated with a godawful stench that could only be described as eau decarrion, the quintessential odor of Death on a bender, the Devil's vomit. "It wears off." A kindly woman with shoulder-length brown hair looked up from a computer console as if Anna's thoughts had been broadcast along with her smell. "It just takes awhile. Have you worked with the skunk lures yet?" "That's for dessert," Anna replied grimly, and the woman laughed. "That's the lure of choice. Joan says they roll and play in it like overgrown dogs. That lure is so stinky you've got to pack it in glass jars. Goes right through plastic." Anna thought about the blood lure, the skunk. Both had been painstakingly researched, other scents tried and discarded, till those most irresistible to grizzly bears had been found. And she was going to be carrying these scents on her back into the heart of bear country in Montana's side of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, nothing between her and the largest omnivores in the lower forty-eight but a can of pepper spray. The puppy woofed and put portentously large paws on her shins, his black-fringed tail describing short, fat arcs. "You want to roll in me, don't you?" Anna asked. He barked again and she quashed an urge to pick him up, defile his soft new fur with her tainted hands. Turning away from the importuning brown eyes, she studied the color photocopies of Ursus horribilis thumbtacked to a long bulletin board situated over a conference table: the muscular hump between the shoulders developed, it was thought, to aid in the main function of the four-inch clawsdigging. Fur was brown, tipped or grizzled with silver, earning the bear its name. Ears were rounded, plump, teddy-bear ears; teeth less sanguine, the canines an inch or so in length, well suited to their feeding habits. Grizzly bears ate carrion, plants, ground squirrels, insects and, sometimes, people. Anna thought about that. Thought about the olfactory enticements she would carry, handle, sleep beside at night. Stepping closer, she studied the pictures of massive heads, long jaws, paws that could topple a strong man, claws that could disembowel with ease, and she felt no fear. Members of the bear team, who monitored bear activities in the park and settled bear/visitor disputes, and the Glacier rangers routinely lamented the fact that the American people were such idiots they thought of these wildest of animals as big cuddly pets. One man had been stopped in the act of smearing ice cream on his five-year-old son's cheek in hopes of photographing a bear licking it off. Anna was too well versed in the critter sciences to believe the animals harmless. She fell into a second and equally dangerous subspecies of idiot: those who felt a spiritual connection with the wild beasts, be they winged, furred or toothed. A sense that they would recognize in her a kindred spirit and do her no harm nullified a necessary and healthful terror of being torn apart and devoured. This delusion didn't extend to the lions of Africa. One couldn't expect them not to eat an overseas tourist; everybody enjoys an exotic dish now and again. But American lions, American bears... She laughed aloud at herself. Fortunately she wasn't fool enough to put interspecies camaraderie to the test and never would she admit any of this to anyone. Least of all Joan Rand, her keeper, trainer and companion for the nineteen days that she was cross-training on the Greater Glacier Bear DNA Project, gleaning knowledge that could be put to use to better manage wildlife in her home park, the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. "Ah, my stinky little friend, your vacation package is ready," Joan said as she emerged from an inner sanctum. Rand was American by birth, French-Canadian by proximity, and she sounded precisely like Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon Parisian skunk, when she chose to. Anna laughed. Joan would remember Pepe. She was near Anna in years, somewhere in that fertile valley of middle age between forty-five and fifty-five. Anna had liked Joan right off. Rand was on the short sidefive-foot-twoand stocky, with the narrow shoulders of a person who couldn't carry much weight and the solid butt and thighs of somebody who could hike a Marine drill sergeant into the ground. Anna liked the quickness of her mind and the gravelly quality of her voice. She liked her humor. But in the two days they'd lived and worked together, she'd not felt an ease of companionship. It seemed she was always looking for something to say. Mostly silences were filled with work. Those that weren't had yet to become comfortable, but Anna had hopes. The bear researcher dropped the skunk accent, adjusted her oversized glasses and said, "Take a seat. This is Rory Van Slyke. He's our Earthwatch sherpa, general dogsbody and has promised, should a bear attack, to offer up his firm young flesh so that you and I might live to continue our important work." Rory, the individual to whom Joan referred, smiled shyly. In her years with the National Park Service Anna had only had occasion to cross paths with the Earthwatch organization once before. Some years back, when she was a boat patrol ranger on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, Earthwatchan independent environmental organization funded by donations and staffed by volunteershad been working on a moose study with the National Park Service. They had the unenviable task of hiking cross-country through the ruggedest terrain of a rugged park seeking out dead and rotting moose, counting the ticks on the carcasses, then packing out the really choice parts for further study. They did this not merely voluntarily, they paid for the privilege, suggesting that the altruism gene was not a myth. All of the Earthwatchers she'd met, including Rory Van Slyke, were young. Probably because the work they did would kill a grown-up. "How you do?" Anna said mechanically. "Well, thank you. And yourself?" A long time had passed since anybody had bothered to finish the old-fashioned greeting formula. Evidently Rory had been raised rightor strictly. "Fine," she managed. The boyyoung manhad a light, high voice that sounded as if it had yet to change, though he was clearly years past puberty. He didn't look substantial enough to be much of a sherpa, but as bear bait, he'd do just fine: slight build, tender-looking skin, coarse sandy hair and dark blue eyes fringed with lashes so pale as to be virtually invisible. "Here's the plan." Joan spread a topographical map on the table in front of Anna, then leaned over her shoulder to point. She, too, stank to high heaven. It was good to be a member of a group. "We've gridded the park into cells eight kilometers on a side," Joan said as she dropped a transparent plastic overlay on the topographical map, aligning it with coordinates she carried in her head. "Each cell is numbered. In every squareevery cellwe've put a hair trap. This is not to trap the bear in toto but merely designed to ensure visiting bears leave behind samples of their hair for the study. Traps are located, near as we can make them, on the natural travel routes of the bears: mountain passes, the confluence of avalanche chutes, that sort of thing. So we're talking some serious off-trail hiking here, bushwhacking at its whackingest. These asterisks," she poked a blunt brown forefinger at marks made by felt marker on the overlay, "are where the last round of traps are located. They've been in place two weeks. The three of us will take five of the cells: numbers three-thirty-one, twenty-three, fifty-two, fifty-three and sixty-four. Here, on the central and west side of Flattop Mountain. What we'll be doing is going into the old traps, collecting the hair, dismantling the traps and setting them up in the new locations, here." She put another plastic overlay on top of the first, and a second set of asterisks appeared. "Or as close to these respective ‘heres' as we can get. Mapping locations out on paper in the cozy confines of the office has very little relationship to where you can actually put them when you get out into the rocky, cliffy, shrubby old backcountry. "Once the trap wire is strung, we pour the elixir of the godsthat's this blood-and-fish-guts perfume you are pretending not to notice on us, Roryinto our new trap and leave for another couple of weeks. While wandering around up there we'll also cover the Flattop Mountain Trail from below Fifty Mountain Camp to the middle of the Waterton Valley and the West Flattop Mountain Trail from the continental divide to Dixon Glacier. Bears are like us: they like to take the easy way when they can. So we've located and marked a number of trees along the trail system that they are particularly fond of scratching their backs on. We'll collect hair samples from these, as well as any samples of scat we happen across." The lecture was for Rory. Anna had heard it before when Joan and her boss, Kate, explained the daunting task of data gathering for the DNA project, the inspiration of Kate Kendall, a researcher working jointly with the USGSthe United States Geographical Surveyand the NPS. From the hair and scat collected, the DNA of individual bears would be extracted. Modern techniques used by the lab at the University of Idaho would establish gender, species and individual identification of the animals sampled. With this information, it was hoped an accurate census of the bears could be established, as well as population trends, travel routes and patterns. This trapping system had been designed to give every single bear at Glacier an opportunity to be counted. "We'll be out five days," Joan finished. "Leaving tomorrow at the crack of dawn." No one spoke for a moment, the three of them gazing at the map as if at any moment it would begin to divulge its secrets. "Hey," Joan said, breaking the silence. "Maybe we'll see your folks, Rory." The young man whuffed, a small expulsion of air through the nostrils that spoke volumes, none of them good, about how he viewed the proximity of his parents. Anna looked at him from the corner of her eye. Down was gone from his cheek, recently replaced by a beard so fair it glistened rather than shadowed at the end of the day. He was seventeen or eighteen at a guess. Very possibly on his first great away-from-home adventure. And Mom and Dad found a way to horn in. Just to see if any of her surmises were in the ballpark, Anna said, "How so your folks?" and prepared to listen with an expression that would pass for innocent with the unwary. "Mom and Dad are camping at Fifty Mountain Camp for a week. Mom got this sudden urge to get back to nature." "Quite a coincidence," Anna needled, to see what kind of response she could scare up. No sense smelling stinky if one couldn't be a stinker. "Mom's kind of...," Rory's voice trailed off. Anna didn't detect any malice, just annoyance. "Kind of into the family thing. Sort of ‘happy campers all together.' She knows I won't see a lot of her, if at all. She can always amuse herself. And of course Les had to come if she came." Now there was malice. A pretty hefty dose of it for a lad so green in years. "Les?" Anna prodded because it was in her nature to do so. "My dad. Carolyn's my stepmother." Had Anna for some unfathomable reason chosen to go forth and populate the earth with offspring of her own, it would have cut her to the heart to hear herself mentioned in the tones Rory used when speaking of his dad. The kinder notes, poured out upon the stepparent, would have been just so much salt in the wound. "I doubt we'll even see them from a distance," Joan said. "This itsy-bitsy chunk of map I've been pointing at represents a whole lot of territory when you're covering it on foot." There was a slamming-the-iron-door quality to her dismissal of the domestic issue that made Anna suspect her of being a mother in her other life. If she had another life. In the forty-eight hours Anna had known her, Rand had worked like a woman buying off a blackmailer. It wasn't that she lacked humor or zest, but that she pushed herself as if her sense of security was held hostage and only hard work could buy it back. A classic workaholic. Anna's sister, Molly, had been one until she'd nearly died; then, at the ripe age of fifty-five, fallen in love for maybe the first time. Molly was a psychiatrist. She could tell Joan that no amount of work would suffice. But if Joan was a true workaholic, she wouldn't have time to listen. Personally, Anna loved workaholics. Especially when they worked for her. In a sense those laboring to save one square inch of wilderness, rescue one caddis fly larva from pollutants, were in the deepest sense public servants. And maybe, if the gods took pity and the public woke up, these rescuers would save the world, one species, one coral reef, one watershed at a time. Anna'd organized a backpack so often it took her no more time than a veteran airline pilot packing for a four-day trip. The five liters of blood and guts were secured in a hard plastic Pelican case. Rory would carry that. Anna and Joan split the rest of the equipment between them: fencing staples and hammers, vials of ethanol for scat samples, envelopes for hair, a trap log to record the salient facts of the sites, like where, precisely, in the two million acres of Glacier each four-hundred-square-foot trap was located so the next round of researchers could find it. The skunk lures, five in all, weighed next to nothing. Wool, permeated with the scent purchased from a hunting catalogue, was stuffed in film canisters and stowed in a glass jar. That went in Anna's pack. In under two hours everything was arranged to Joan's satisfaction. The women spent the remainder of the evening at a scarred oak table in Joan's dining area going over BIMSbear incident management systems reports. Joan lived in park housing and Anna felt peculiarly at home. There was a sameness to the quarters that engendered a bizarre dreamlike déjà vu. It wasn't merely the prevalence of the Mission '66 ranch-style floor plans: three bedrooms, L-shaped living area and long narrow kitchen circa 1966, the last time the NPS had gotten major funding for employee housing. It was the décor. Rangers, researchers and naturalists, from seasonal to superintendent, could be counted on to have park posters on the walls, a kachina or two on the shelves, Navajo rugs over the industrial-strength carpeting and an assortment of mismatched unbreakable plastic dishes in the kitchen. The predictability of the surroundings had dulled Anna's natural curiosity. Remembering now her suspicion as to her hostess's family leanings, she took off the drugstore half-glasses she'd finally admitted to needing for close work and looked around the compact living area. On top of the television, between a Kokopelli doll standing on an ojo de Dios and the skull of some large canid, were framed school portraits of two boys, either fraternal twins or very close in age. Both were stunningly beautiful, a pedophile's dream-come-true. Thinking of the children in those terms brought Anna up short. Dark thoughts, dire predictions, a view of the world as a dangerous and dirty place was an occupational hazard of those in law enforcementeven park rangers, whose days were spent in beautiful places populated by largely benevolent if occasionally misguided vacationers. Her promotion to district ranger on the Natchez Trace Parkway was taking its toll. The Trace was a road, hence Anna was a cop. Asphalt could be relied on to be a conduit for crime. The boys in the picture frames: not potential victims but future promise made flesh. Attitude screwed around the right way, Anna asked, "Are those your sons?" "Luke and John," Joan said. Good apostolic names. Anna smiled. "What happened to Matthew and Mark?" "Stillborn." Anna's brain skidded to a halt; a feeble jest had struck the jugular. "Shit," she said sincerely. "Yup." Silence settled around them, oddly comfortable this time, more so given this silence's root. "John graduates high school this year. Luke's a junior. I got pregnant while nursing. Another old wives' tale bites the dust. They live with their dad in Denver." There was no need for elaboration. The park service, though sublime in many respects, was hell on marriages. Anna was all too familiar with the forlorn photographs of shattered families. Accompanied by an alarming creaking noise that she hoped was the ladder-backed chair and not Joan's sacroiliac, the researcher rose. She crossed to the television, returned with the pictures and set them down amid the BIMS reports and scat sample tubes. "They're good-looking boys," Anna said, to make up for her evil pedophilic thoughts. "Their dad was a virtual Adonis. Still is. Still knows it. Still drives the little girls wild." Another chapter in the same old story. "Ah," Anna said. "If I ever marry again, it'll be to a rich old hunchback with bad teeth." Picking up a frame, Anna studied the photo simply because she thought Joan had brought the pictures that they might be pored over and admired. "John?" "Luke. Though he's younger, he's the bigger boy." Around the eyesbrown and, because of a slight down-turn at the outer corners, sad-lookingLuke resembled his mother. In all else he had followed along the Adonis lines. "Looks a little like Rory Van Slyke," Anna said. "Looks" wasn't quite the right word. The two boys did have a surface resemblance, but it was the eyes that made them so alike, a depth of vision that boys shouldn't have. As if, during what should have been carefree childhood years, they had seen enough of life to become weary. "I noticed that," Joan said. Wistfulness permeated the words. Joan missed her sons, maybe picked the Van Slyke boy from the Earthwatch litter because he reminded her of Luke. Evidently Joan heard her own vulnerability and was shamed by it. At any rate, the moment of intimacy was over. "BIMS," she said overbrightly. "Never a dull moment. Let me read you one." The forms had been made up in an attempt to keep a record of every bear sighting in the park. They were filled out by visitors and park personnel alike to gather information on the activities and whereabouts of the grizzlies and their less alarming cousins, the black bears. Each form had places for writing the location of sighting, date, time, observer, color of bear, observer's activity and, the most entertaining if not always the most illuminating, the comments section where the activities of the bear were described. Joan shuffled through her pile of BIMS and, Anna noted, in the process managed to turn the photos of her sons so they faced away. "Here it is. Listen to this. ‘Big bear. Major, mondo, hippo of a bear. Thousand to twelve hundred pounds.'" "Too big?" "By half. In Glacier, grizzlies don't reach the size they do in Alaska, where they have access to all that salmon protein. Here an average male weighs in at three-fifty or four hundred pounds, the females a little less. We get a lot of exaggerated reports. I can't say as I blame folks. When you see a bear and you're all alone in the big bad woods, they do have a tendency to double in size." Joan's jocularity was forced. Equilibrium was not yet reestablished. The ghosts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John still hovered over the scat bottles. Anna wondered whether the situation with the boys was intense or if it was just Joan. "I got a good one," she offered in the spirit of denial. She paged back till she located a form filled out in lavender ballpoint. "August fifth. No location. No time. No observer name. Species: grizzly. Age: twenty-six. Color: blonddon't know if this means the bear was twenty-six and blond, or the observer was." "Blond for our bears is rare." "That's not the rare part. This is." Anna read aloud from the "Comments" box. "‘Bear activity: juggling what looked like a hedgehog. Observer activity: standing amazed.'" Joan laughed and the air was clear again. Tales of visitor silliness could always be counted on to bring back a sense of normalcy to park life. "Reports like that reassure me that Timothy Leary's alive and well and doing drugs with Elvis," the researcher said. After ten o'clock, in Joan's spare room furnished, as was every spare room in every park service house Anna had ever slept in, with peculiar oddments of furniture heavily representing the 1950s and Wal-Mart, and a closet full of backpacks, coats and sleeping bags good to ten below zero, Anna lay awake. Her book, an old well-read copy of The Wind Chill Factor, was open on her chest. Seeing the shapes of animals in the water stains on the ceiling as she used to do as a child, she contemplated the upcoming backcountry trip. Months had passed since she'd done anything more strenuous than sit on her posterior in an air-conditioned patrol car. The most weight she'd lifted with any regularity was a citation book and government-issue pen. In desperation, she'd joined an aerobics class at the Baptist Healthplex in Clinton, Mississippi, but she'd only gone twice. One of the requirements for inclusion in this cross-training venture had been the ability to carry a fifty-pound pack. Anna hadn't lied. She could carry fifty pounds. Just how far remained to be seen. She hoped she wouldn't slow everybody down. She hoped Joan wouldn't have Rory Van Slyke unwittingly bearing, along with the blood of sacrificial cows, the burden of stillborn apostles because of an uncanny likeness to long-absent sons. She hoped she'd see some grizzly bear cubs. And that the cubs' momma wouldn't see her. Reprinted from Blood Lure by Nevada Barr by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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Meet the Author
Nevada Barr is the award-winning author of thirteen previous Anna Pigeon mysteries, including the New York Times bestsellers Hard Truth and High Country. She lives in New Orleans.
- Clinton, Mississippi
- Date of Birth:
- March 1, 1952
- Place of Birth:
- Yerington, Nevada
- B.A., Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 1974; M.A., University of California at Irvine, 1977
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