My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"[...] fog white as drugstore cotton began pouring down, feather-light liquid in stasis, from over the jagged mountain face to the east. Slow and silent in sinister majesty it cloaked the crags, slipped between them and flowed toward the meadows."
National Park system is one of the best things we have in this country; my wife and I have now visited 30 out of the 59 national parks in the U.S., several of them more than once, and we cherish the memories of our trips. So when I started reading Nevada Barr's Blood Lure (2001) and realized that the plot is located in Glacier National Park I got really excited. Indeed, the first part of the novel is, to me, absolutely spellbinding. Ms. Barr writes about places I vividly remember from two stays in the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, Lake McDonald, Cathedral Peak, and others. Even Kootenai Pass makes its appearance, and I still remember the Kootenai country from Blue Heaven and from our Montana trip. The setup of the plot is absolutely first class and I was unable to put the book away until after 2 a.m.
Anita Pigeon, a ranger in the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, is "on loan" to Glacier National Park - the U.S. part of it located in Montana as the park has also its Canadian part - where she works on a project concerning grizzly bear DNA. Ms. Pigeon, accompanied by Joan, the researcher, and Rory, a young park volunteer, embark on a five-day hike to collect bear hairs from hair traps, set up new traps and furnish them with fresh lure, a smelly blood-and-fish-guts mixture. On the second night they have a dramatic encounter with a bear; the scene is really well written. Rory disappears and, having been alerted by the park's chief ranger, Anita and Joan find a body of a victim of a brutal attack, half of whose face is gone, "cheekbone and teeth [...] exposed, bone and enamel crusted brown with dried blood."
To me the first half of the novel was a totally compulsive read: not only was I captivated with the mystery of the ravaged dead body but the park's forbidding yet magnificent landscapes that I remember from the two visits, the nature, plants and animals, came alive on the pages. Then the author acknowledges that this is a crime novel after all, and begins creating and dropping a number of unusual clues. The criminal plot rapidly grows at the expense of the national-park component of the story. We have several suspects and Ms. Pigeon's investigation even involves such distant places as Florida and Seattle. All this is pretty mundane and ordinary and the second part of the novel has not really interested me that much. The denouement has a rather low degree of plausibility but I imagine it must have been extremely hard to reconcile and successfully explain all the numerous and often contradictory clues.
Hence, even though at the beginning I was certain this would be an above-four-star novel, my hopes have been shattered by the unremarkable second half. Still, Blood Lure is a good read, and the non-mystery bits are quite interesting, like the one about bears and their food sources that very rarely include humans but often the cutworm moths. One can even find a pretty insightful sociological observation (remember, this is 2001):
"Americans were happily forfeiting their freedom of choice for imagined increases in security. [...] People as individuals were giving up their decision-making power because they did not want the responsibility."I have now learned that each installment of the "Anita Pigeon series" of novels takes place in a different national park. Wow! I have just found a new must-read author.
Three and a half stars.
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