Thursday, April 17, 2014

Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

Many mystery aficionados are already familiar with Nevada Barr’s brusque and outdoorsy Anna Pigeon, whose grief over the loss of her fiancé and subsequent retreat into the bottle drove her to a career with the National Park Service. Time after time, Anna has been reassigned to different parks, crisscrossing the U.S., and time after time she stumbles upon murder and corruption.

Her latest adventure, Destroyer Angel, is not so much a mystery as a survival story, set near the Fox River in northern Minnesota. This time Anna is camping with two other women, introverted inventor Leah Hendricks and paraplegic Heath Jarrod, and their teen daughters, Katie and Elizabeth. The party is attacked and captured by four thugs who know their names and are seemingly intent on kidnapping the two Hendricks’ for ransom. Anna is at the river enjoying a moment alone when the attack occurs, and the others convince the bad guys that the expected fifth member of their party never showed up.

 Hearing the attack before she betrays her presence, Anna calculates that help is just too far away. It would take more than a day for her to reach civilization and get aid, and during that time, her friends would be in the hands of killers and rapists. If she wants to keep them alive, she must use the few assets she has—no weapon, no food, no cell phone, only her survival skills—to neutralize the bad guys.

What follows is excruciating. Anna and her friends are seemingly powerless. One is in a wheelchair, another nearly catatonic with fear. Two are teenage girls; one a spoiled city girl, the other the past victim of a psychopath.

Destroyer Angel is a harsh, violent story of struggle and heroism despite overwhelming odds, told so vividly and with such human characters that I was unable to put it down. It might have extra resonance with female readers because it’s about women triumphing over misogynistic, scum-of-the-earth men, but male readers who like survival epics will enjoy it too. Nevada Barr’s 18th entry can be read on its own, even if you haven’t read the rest of the series, and I highly recommend it.

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