I recently went on a trip with an old friend of mine--park ranger, Anna Pigeon. Well, actually I just met her a few months ago when we traveled to Michigan's Isle Royale National Park in the dead of winter. ...Ok, ok--you dragged it out of me! She's not a real person, but is a character in a mystery series written by Nevada Barr. It's just that from the first page I felt comfortable with Anna, like we had been friends since college. Barr's Anna Pigeon series takes the ranger/amateur detective to a different national park in each book. The settings are so thoroughly described that you completely understand what it's like to be there. When I read Winter Study the bitter, dangerous cold was tangible, and I was very happy to be reading it during the summer. In Firestorm, the fourth book in the series, Barr's characters realistically handle the annoyances and the dangers of a raging wildfire, not to mention a couple of murders and really bad weather. I came away with an even deeper respect for all the public servants who try to safeguard us. One reason the settings and characters are so realistic in the Anna Pigeon series is that after pursuing an acting career for 18 years, Barr, herself, worked as a ranger in various national parks. Her interest in conservation and wildlife are on full display throughout each mystery. Barr received two Best First Novel awards for Track of the Cat, followed by a French National Crime Award for Firestorm, and a Best Novel award for Deep South. She has been widely and strongly praised for her clever plots, her intricate characterizations, and her rich, descriptive language. These mysteries are packed with detail and suspense. Be aware that Barr presents the action realistically, and is not afraid to include violence when it is called for in the plot. There are fourteen books (so far) in the Anna Pigeon series, with publication dates beginning in 1993. Though each story stands alone, you may want to start at the beginning of the series (Track of the Cat) and follow along as Anna's character evolves.
Recommended by Angela Prandini