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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
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).