Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Firestorm, by Nevada Barr

 For the letter F, some wild fire in the wilderness, with a murder shown in to remind us that people are wild animals too.

Title:  Firestorm
Author: Nevada Barr
Publisher: Orig. published Putnam Adult, 307 pages, 1996.
Source:  Public library (ebook)

Ranger Anna Pigeon is on loan from Mesa Verde to fight wildfire near Mt. Lassen in California.  But as the fire camp is closing down, a carry-out operation for an injured firefighter is brought to a shocking end.  The fire suddenly blows up and the group is forced to deploy their last-ditch fire shelters.  When the flames pass, one shelter contains a dead man--with the knife still in his ribs.  Before they can be evacuated, snow closes the approaches to the camp.  It's up to Anna, with some long-distance help from her sort of love interest, Frederick Stanton of the FBI, to find out who killed the man, and why.

The Anna Pigeon novels are one part police procedural (Anna is in law enforcement, for the Park Service), one part exercise for the little grey cells, and one part wild adventure.  In Firestorm, Anna struggles to keep the grey cells working without food or sleep as she is faced with a classic locked-door mystery.  She's locked in the room with the suspects and the corpse, and survival involves food and fire as well as not tipping off the unknown killer.

Barr builds the tension well, and refuses to give us the obvious criminals just as she refuses to give us (or Anna and Frederick) an easy love story.  Anna peels away layer after layer of the dead man's life, until most readers would be happy to join in sticking the knife in the man's ribs.  But only one person has done it, and though in retrospect there are clues, the answer still comes as a shock--just the way it should.  And while we are sure Anna will be glad to see Stanton, we can be pretty sure that they won't ride off into the sunset together.  She has a lot of baggage, and ends this book with still more.

Barr's mysteries are a bit too gritty to be cozy, but they share some important features with cozies.  Notably, the characters are easy to identify with, and the settings are vital.  In fact, this was the first Anna Pigeon novel I read (when it first came out), because it was set in my husband's local park.  The threats to the Parks that Pigeon uncovers lend a special importance to the investigations she undertakes for us.

If you like the National Parks and you like mysteries, and aren't afraid of a bit of gore and some mildly foul language, Nevada Barr and Anna Pigeon are for you.  And this book, though not the first in the series, is as good a place as any to start, and better than some.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed  Firestorm  from my public (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. I am adding this one to my 'to-read' list. I usually read fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance, or thrillers, but I keep these little gems on the list for when I need a break with something different. Thanks for a great review that really has me wanting to see how she makes it out of that 'little closed room' alive!
    Stopping in from the A to Z Challenge.

    1. Nevada Barr is a great writer, though I'm less thrilled by the dark turn many of her more recent books have taken. I really love the early Anna Pigeon novels, though!

  2. I hadn't heard of this writer before. I really like these kind of mysteries, so thanks for the recommendation!

    ~Tizzy @ Creative Therapy

  3. Replies
    1. I'm not too gritty.

      Except when I've been hiking all day in dusty country, but that's a different kind of grit.

  4. Well, I don't like fire, so maybe I'll give it a miss - although it does sound interesting.

    1. It's an exciting read. And since fire seasons in CA have been only getting worse, it seems timely.


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