OK, let’s fact it. You know the minute you pick up one of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon park ranger mysteries that at some point in the narrative, our intrepid heroine is going to get herself into a life-threatening situation and you are going to be sitting on the edge of your seat unable to put the book down.
However, in Blind Descent, Nevada Barr outdoes herself, because the suspense is as thick as the impenetrable darkness Anna Pigeon descends into when she joins a rescue team to bring out an injured park employee from a miles-long mostly unmapped cave in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. The injured caver whispered Anna’s name during a brief moment of consciousness, and so, battling claustrophobia Anna squeezes through tunnels and rappels down rock faces to the side of the injured woman, who confides to Anna, during another moment of lucidity, that she was pushed. Her injury was not an accident. Which one of the handful of people deep in the bowels of this inhospitable underworld did it? And why? Will they kill the injured caver before she can be brought to the surface? And, anyway, what was that sound? A cave creature?
One of the many charms of the Anna Pigeon mystery series is that the novels are all set in a different National Park, giving the reader an education in, for example, the behind-the-scenes workings of well-known locations such as Yosemite National Park as described in High Country, the civil war background of the less-known ramparts ruins on the island Dry Tortugas National Park at the tip of the Florida Keys, and the intriguing feeding habits of Glacier National Park grizzly bears in Blood Lure.
Therefore, I expected that the almost totally underground setting of Blind Descent would be without charm until I began to read the book. That’s when I discovered that, au contraire, underground caving, the creation of immense underground caverns, and their discovery is a fascinating subject.
And then there’s our beloved Anna Pigeon, dashing and swash-buckling, at a time in her life when most people are contemplating early retirement, she continues to pull off deeds of daring-do in spite of aching joints and fatigue. I can’t help myself. I love Anna Pigeon. When I grow up I want to be just like her, except that, uh oh, I am already grown up. OK, so I love to pretend I am her, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, flying faster than a jet plane . . . no, wait a minute, that’s another super hero. In any case, Anna is as close to a real down-to-earth super heroine as you can get.