Book Reviews

Book Review: Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr – Murder in the Desert Mountains

I always enjoy finding new authors. In this case, it’s the first book in a series that takes place in various National Parks around the United States. Each story not only gives the reader a mystery to solve but is also insight into the landscape and behind-the-scenes workings at the parks.

Track of the Cat introduces the character of Anna Pigeon. Anna is escaping her past and has chosen to become a National Park Ranger in a small corner of western Texas. While she’s out on patrol, she discovers the body of Sheila Drury, a fellow park ranger that appears to have been mauled by a mountain lion. The locals seem poised to jump on this as an excuse to hunt down the mountain lions in the area, which have been protected. Anna is not too sure. Everything seems too perfect, and she has her suspicions.

Author Nevada Barr has admitted that Anna Pigeon is based on herself. In this early book, it’s easy to get a feel for her experiences as a National Park Ranger. Later on, Anna evolves into her own character. Still, this early she seems a lot like someone who experienced a life-changing event and is trying to distance herself from others and give herself time to contemplate. The remoteness of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is an excellent backdrop for this. It’s not overrun with people the way Yellowstone or Yosemite is. Anna gets plenty of time to think and contemplate, both of her own life and the death of her co-worker. There are information dumps that tend to take away a bit from the story. These mostly occur when Anna is talking to her New York psychiatrist sister.

There’s a lot of description of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which I’d never heard of before reading the book. It’s located on the Texas/New Mexico border not far from Carlsbad Caverns. There are many fossil beds in the park and some good hiking trails, according to Barr’s description. It is a park she once worked at, so she would know.

Although there are some problems with this first novel, overall I enjoyed it. It’s easy to see that Anna is naive in many ways and is figuring out life as well as her place in the world. The people around her are not all that they seem at first, and Anna spends most of the time trying to figure out who might have had the motive to kill Sheila. Out of that same naivete, Anna puts her own life in danger several times. I can see how someone raised in the city might not appreciate the dangers in a remote area like this, both from nature and the humans who live nearby and are used to having things their way. Living in a popular mountain hiking area, we are frequently subjected to unprepared city dwellers deciding to take a walk in the mountains and end up finding out there’s much more to it. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Information on Guadalupe Mountains National Park: https://www.nps.gov/gumo/whatssospecial.htm

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