Book Reviews

Book Review: A Superior Death by Nevada Barr

This second book in the Anna Pigeon series has the National Park Ranger now working at Isle Royale National Park, located in Lake Superior near Michigan’s border with Canada. This provides a remoteness that draws visitors in the summer with their boats, as well as divers seeking to visit one of the many wrecks in these deep waters.

The life Anna is living here is one of solitude. She stays in a rustic cabin on the island during the season while her friend Christina lives in a nearby town with her daughter. They have become a close sort of family, but the distance has made Anna worried about the future. It’s not a sexual thing, but more of a very deep friendship, and relying on each other for comfort. Anna still seems to enjoy the solitude and keeping people at a distance, yet she misses them greatly when she is at her post.

Two divers come back from the wreck of the Kamloops to report finding a new body down there. The way the bodies are preserved in these depths, it’s natural to see old bodies appear as if they had gone down recently. Still, Anna must check out the report. She makes the dive and finds it’s Denny Castle, who ran a dive concession in the park and was recently married.

There are suspects aplenty as to how Denny, a very experienced diver, ended up there. Anna investigates on her own, while the authorities seem ready to chalk it up to a diving accident. Her investigation leads to revelations about numerous secrets being held by those whose lives revolve around the park and its very brief season.

I am enjoying these forays to the different National Parks that I had never heard of. Author Nevada Barr was a Park Ranger herself and did work at Isle Royale, so the descriptions are accurate to make me feel like I could picture the place down to her meager quarters. This is a seasonal park not unlike Yellowstone, but with much fewer visitors. Anna interacts with the operators of the concessions as well as those who give tours while uncovering bits and pieces about their history. It seems that many people who wish to escape life gravitate towards these types of jobs, giving them all an air of suspicion.

Barr manages to give the details of the park while being involved with the story here. Her job during the day is usually in a rescue boat where she is a godsend to stranded boaters, or in a kayak out patrolling the waters looking for infractions without being as obvious as in the motorboat. She is a voyeur of sorts, watching people and trying to discern their motivation. She also listens to the stories and lore that surround the Park. In particular, there is the story that keeps coming back to her mind of an old settler who turned to cannibalism one winter and ate his wife. This comes into play with a different mystery of a woman who disappears over the summer, and the answers her husband gives everyone are unsatisfactory.

The mystery is good and kept me guessing. The pace of the book moved the story along nicely and didn’t drag, all while giving me a great feel for the landscape. The secondary characters are well-rounded and at some times quirky, but very enjoyable. I would wonder if they could be involved in Denny’s death each time they came back into the story. There are enough other things going on outside of the mystery to make this a more well-rounded story, like a slice of life of a summer at the park. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue with the series.

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