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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on April 28, 2004
I have read all of Nevada's books, and this was one of my favorites. I did not find the jump between present day and Civil War times to be disorienting at all, in fact, I believe the interplay added to both stories. I'm devoted to Anna Pigeon, with her flaws and imperfections - she is the perfect combination of kick-ass gal with self-doubting everywoman. The diving scenes and the culminating rain-soaked scene were excellently crafted and had me on the edge of my chair. I really loved this novel, and I hope Anna isn't getting to worn out on adventure. Even though I really like her fiance', I'm not sure I want her to stop getting into trouble all over the USA!
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on April 8, 2004
My main problem with Flashback is that the characters were too sketchy to be interesting. One was a manly man but loved to gossip, one was an attractive woman but had a bad posture. These features were insufficient to make the characters come alive. The romance between Anna and Paul Davidson also lacked excitement. Piedmont the cat, as depicted in this book, had a ton more personality than Sheriff Davidson, the fiance, infrequently appearing in his sugary telephone persona.
The "two mysteries in one" format of Flashback could be refreshing, if the two mysteries were connected in more ways than the location. The historical mystery, contained in the letters of Anna's collateral ancestress Raffia, was too transparent for me. I guessed right away what caused the abrupt change in the behavior of Raffia's husband Joseph. Something else, although small, bothered me about Raffia's tale. Raffia and Tilly are sisters who have a large age difference. Raffia is 38 while Tilly is 16. I can buy that but then there is another sister, Molly, who is even older than Raffia. When their parents died, Tilly was 5. By that time Raffia must have been 27. Was she still unmarried at 27? I got the feeling that she lived in the same household with Tilly and helped raise her and that Molly, having assumed the role of the family matriarch, oversaw Raffia's upbringing in some way. Unless I mixed something up, these numbers do not add up.
In conclusion, if you are already a Nevada Barr's fan, you won't want to miss Flashback. If you have not read other Nevada Barr mysteries, this book is not the best introduction.
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on August 25, 2003
Nevada Barr's primary character Ranger Anna Pigeon has always been neurotic. Some times more than other times and in the last several novels she seemed to finally be just a bit less annoyingly neurotic. Unfortunately, for most of this book, Anna is neurotic and stuck in the past in more ways than one.
As the book opens, Anna is temporarily supervising Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park off of Key West. The last supervisor of the park seems to have had a mental breakdown and is off on the mainland getting treatment after seeing ghosts and whatnot flitting around the fort. Anna has gone about as far as she can go in the Park Service to escape her own demons that haunt her by accepting this posting. She has taken the assignment so that she has time to think about a marriage proposal from Paul. Paul is still a minister, now recently divorced, and wants desperately to marry Anna. But he knows that her answer to pressure is to run as far as she can as fast as she can and has vowed to give her the time she needs to think about his offer. While she does love him, she isn't sure she is ready to once again try marriage as has been made abundantly clear several times in earlier books in this series.
Those issues remain for Anna and with little else to occupy her mind, she begins to think that she understands why the previous Supervisor went mad. Supervising a skeleton staff and very few visitors, Anna begins to look for something to occupy her mind instead of thinking about her life. Her sister Molly has sent to Anna to read a large packet of letters that were written to Anna's great grandmother, Peggy, from her sister Raffia who was married to a Captain station at the Fort shortly at the end of the Civil War. That same time saw the arrival of Dr. Samuel Mudd and Samuel Arnold after they were sentenced to prison time for their roles in the Lincoln assassination. Both men denied involvement.
Through a series of flashbacks in letter form, Anna begins to read of the heartbreak and struggle went through by Raffia during that time period. While that mystery occupies her mind, a modern day mystery involving mysterious boats at night and the near death of a Park Ranger occupies her waking thoughts. The stresses along with a series of other problems begin to take their toll on Anna and what is left of the skeleton staff. As she tries to figure out the present problems, the past continues to occupy more and more of her mental thoughts and before long; the veil between fantasy and reality for Anna becomes almost non-existent. Is she losing her mind or is she having help to crack and if so why?
Anna is at her most annoyingly neurotic during the first half of this four hundred page slow read which is something considering this is the tenth novel of the series. As she slowly loses her mind thanks to a plot device that is amazingly telegraphed like a neon sign, she sees ghosts and various apparitions. One is reminded of the many times James Lee Burke has used this same technique to great effect by way of his command of language and Nevada Barr does not come close in pulling the same effect.
Once she begins to regain her sanity and work the modern day case as well as the puzzle from the past, this novel improves tremendously. It ceases to wallow in the past on so many levels and instead moves forward steadily and with purpose. The story begins to take of with plenty of action and the many plot twists that have hallmarked her earlier work. But, one has to get through the first two hundred pages that are both literally and figuratively a "flashback" on many levels. It is ultimately worth the effort to read this book, but it is not Nevada Barr at her best. One hopes with several issues resolved apparently at the conclusion of this novel, Nevada Barr might once again bring back the Anna who was so good in her first book, Track of the Cat.
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on August 15, 2003
I have been a fan of Nevada Barr since Track of the Cat. However, her last two or three books, including this one, have become mundane and I hate to say it, boring. Where is the sharp tongued, opinionated Anna Pigeon of days gone by? I was happy to see that Barr had moved the venue out of Mississippi (which may have worked adequately for one book, but certainly not more than one), but was disappointed by the result - Flashback. While the Dry Tortugas is an interesting locale, and even the plot line has promise, the story just doesn't deliver. The dangerous situations Anna finds herself in seem contrived and just unbelievable. The character herself seems muted and uninteresting. I think that's what I feel most let down about - the character has changed and not for the better. Could it be Barr's own personal life changes are being reflected too much in her character and not for the better? I don't know, but for the first time in this series I must say I am unlikely to purchase future installments.
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on July 23, 2003
I am an avid fan of Nevada Barr books - the great combination of national parks and mystery stories in her books blend together to form a unique and fantastic read. It is very hard to find her books here in Australia, so over time I have acquired the complete set of Anna Pigeon books via Amazon.
I managed to borrow Flashback from my local library, and read it in a few days. There were two factors that lead to only giving it four stars:
Being from Australia, I have little background knowledge of the American Civil War, and couldn't tell whether the characters such as Dr Samuel Mudd were based on real people or were fiction. I also found similar distance issues with Liberty Falling, as there were specific details that as a non-American, I couldn't quite relate to. I felt a little bit alienated whilst reading Flashback, and wondered whether I should undertake some research about the American Civil War before I continued any further. Nevertheless, I finished it without needing to.
Secondly, I also found the alternating chapters between Anna's activities and that of Aunt Raffia and Tilly hard to follow. A chapter would often end in a dramatic moment, and then the next would follow with a completely different tone. By the time that chapter was finished, I had forgotten what was going on with Anna, (or Raffia), from two chapters ago. As I read it over a few days, this meant a little bit of backtracking occasionally to remind myself of where everyone was at.
I still think that Firestorm and Track of the Cat are the best in the series, and Blind Descent the most vividly descriptive.
I would recommend any of the Anna Pigeon series to mystery readers, those interested in female leads, and even more so, those interested in descriptive stories set in wilderness areas.
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on April 2, 2003
Barr really did a good job on this particular book. As other reviewers have said, it's nice to see her back on target with her books. What made this particular book so interesting is the background of this park, which I never even knew existed! It's a fortress built about 70 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida. Originally built to serve military purposes during the Civil War, but the war ended and so it's purpose was changed from a prison to house POWs from the Southern side, to house other more famous prisoners, including some of the men purported to have involvement in the killing of President Lincoln, including the doctor who set the leg of of Lincoln's assasin.
As someone who is very into geneaology, history, old letters, and Lincoln because of being related to him by way of his wife, Mary Todd, this was an incredible historical find, and Barr has whetted my appetite to find out more about Dry Tortugas National park. It's definitely a place I want to visit.
Anna Pigeon is as usual being her own worse enemy. No wonder she likes cats so much...her own curiousity and lack of fear get her into many of her scrapes. All to the good in this story, where she has to save not only herself and her friends in the park, but also rescue illegal immigrants from being slaughtered and taken advantage of. More examples of man's inhumanity to we really need any more.
Anna does finally learn to stop running away from another commitment to a good man because of what happened in her first marriage (her husband was killed in an accident in the first year or so).
This book was a fast read, three evenings in spite of dissertation work. I hope to see more from Barr. She seems to have gotten a second wind, which is rare in series. As always the descriptions of the parks are phenomenal, as Barr knows what she is talking about.
Karen Sadler
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on March 24, 2003
Don't let the slow beginning fool you. "Flashback" is the best Nevada Barr book since "Deep South." This time around, Anna, sans dog and erstwhile fiancee Paul, is stationed for a brief time on the Dry Tortugas--the southernmost point of the Florida Keys, and therefore of the United States.
It should be a quiet, sleepy respite for Anna, who is filling in for the regular ranger--a man who has gone inexplicably mad. But then--where Anna goes, trouble follows, and this outing is no exception. In very short order, Anna, too, begins to fear she is losing her mind. There are ghosts that appear and disappear, flashing lights that cannot be, noises that may or may not be real, and the reality of the spooky Civil War fort that makes up the national park may just serve to take Anna's sanity away for good.
Told against this very interesting backdrop is another story entirely--that of Anna's ancestor Raffia Coleman, wife of the Civil War Union commander of the fort, which in those days housed Confederate prisoners, not the least of whom was the notorious Dr. Mudd, accused of helping to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Through a series of letters written by Raffia (and sent to Anna by her sister Molly), a dark and brooding mystery unfolds. Although this device has been used by other others, most notably by Anita Shreve (in "The Color of Water"), it in no way detracts from the interesting juxtaposition between Civil War times and the all-too-frightening present.
As Anna hallucinates between dreams of her great great aunt's letters and the strange goings-on of the present, the reader becomes rivited. When Barr is on, she is really on--and this book proves the point. A tragic murder of the past, and a deeping mystering of the present all entertwine to make Anna struggle for her wits and her sanity.
A good, solid yarn. Welcome back, Nevada Barr and Anna!
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on March 19, 2003
I recently began reading Nevada Barr's books featuring Ranger Anna Pigeon at the suggestion of my daughter, her husband (they have both been rangers in the National Park Service) and my wife, all of whom have enjoyed the series. I enjoyed HUNTING SEASON enough that I decided to read FLASHBACK, and as my review will make clear my reactions to the book were very ambivalent. The book involves Anna's decision to accept a temporary post at Dry Tortugas National Park located near Garden Key off the coast of Florida. We actually attended a talk and book signing for Nevada Barr recently; she revealed that the location for this story had been suggested to her by three different readers during a previous book tour. Thus, if you have any suggestions for her, I recommend that you locate the nearest stop on her current tour and feel confident that she will listen carefully to you.
Dry Tortugas Park consists primarily of Fort Wadsworth, a military fortress constructed prior to the civil war but utilized instead as a Union prison for reasons explained in the novel. In addition to Confederate Civil war prisoners, the Lincoln Conspirators were imprisoned there, and this fact is an integral part of the story. Anna is temporarily replacing the previous superintendent of the facility, who has been institutionalized after seeing apparitions and apparently suffering a nervous breakdown. Shortly after assuming her post, Anna begins to delve into the Fort's history through reading the letters of her great-great aunt Raffia, who lived at the Fort during the civil war while her husband was the military commandant of the prison. Two parallel mysteries unfold and need to be solved, one involving some mysterious events and disappearances described in the letters and one involving present day events. The unexplained explosion of a mysterious cigar boat in the waters near the Fort and accompanying loss of life lead to a series of incidents that endanger Anna and cause her to question her own sanity. Thus she is distracted from what she hoped would be a quiet assignment during which she could resolve her indecision about the proposal of marriage which she recently received from sheriff and ex-priest Paul Davidson. Additional complexities eventually develop, including the real motivations of Anna's coworkers; given the closed and isolated nature of the post she suspects that recent deaths, disappearances and apparently illegal activities must involve the complicity of someone stationed at the Fort.
This is a very well plotted mystery, and the conclusion is very satisfying (altough a little contrived) as Anna unravels the threads of both the present day events and also finds a soluion to the unexplained occurrences outlined in Raffia's letters. There are some really interesting characters, and their interaction with Anna is a joy at times. In addition, there are some observations that really ring true and are articulated quite enjoyably, for instance:
Anna mirrored my own frustration at times when she kept exchanging messages with a law enforcemant officer on the mainland and observed "it seemed with each new invention developed to make communication easier- call waiting, forwarding, voicemail, pagers, cell phones - the more dificult it became to get in touch with anyone"
or tourists at the Fort "made the place mundane,{robbing it} of mystery and romance".
And what a great personal insight, "of the various neuroses, the one she most lusted after was the one that she could never quite attain".
Finally what a wonderful reply by Paul to her indecision concerning his marriage proposal and her question about its duration. "It will stand forever. Maybe lean a little after eight hundred years like the Tower of Pisa, but it will still be standing."
So, why did I only reluctantly rate this book as high four stars, and not a glowing five stars? I found that the technique which the author used to weave the two stories together significantly inhibited my enjoyment. Anna's adventures are interspersed in alternate chapters with the letters of Raffia, which relate the events during the Civil War. Furthermore, many of the chapters end in the midst of very tense situations, while this seems somewhat natural in the case of the letters it seems totally contrived in Anna's situation. Thus, I found it very easy to put the book down since I knew the next chapter provided no continuity with what I had just read. This is just the opposite of what I expect from a good mystery, where I want to get so involved that I stay up late to keep reading. I was tempted to sometimes just skip ahead, but was never sure whether I would lose context by so doing. So I found the effort by the author interesting and credit her with the attempt to do something new, but in the end I found it unsatisfying and while it was intellectually interesting it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. And from both other reviews and the reaction of my wife and friends, I realize that my feelings are quite widely shared. So I recommend the book, but with the caveat that you should be prepared for this very unusual literary technique.
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on March 13, 2003
As a writer myself, I am aware that writers must keep challenging themselves and setting new goals to keep themselves moving forward. Moving back and forth between past and present allows the author to experiment with new forms and keeps the reader from becoming bored with a familiar format.
Not that we could ever be bored with Anna, the no-nonsense ranger, who grows herself as she allows romance to enter her life in the unlikely form of Paul Davidson, a rare combo of priest and sheriff. Here Anna flexes her administrative skills and buys herself time to review Paul's marriage proposal, as she serves as Acting Supervisory Ranger on an isolated Caribbean island. Anna retrieves her boating skills from her Lake Superior job - the second in the series - and yet she's become older and wiser, comfortable with being in charge.
Like Anna, the supporting cast consists of three-dimensional characters. Background checks reveal criminal past of a kind-hearted person and fail to disclose evil in one who appears to have a past. A ranger who appears ludicrously over-zealous turns out to be a hero.
True, Nevada Barr lingers lovingly over Anna's surroundings -- because Anna does, too. Anna puts up with the NPS bureaucracy so she can, as she says, have time with sights and sounds the tourists only glimpse on a quick run-through. She has friends and she knows love, but her deepest relationships come from a sense of place.
She's grown accustomed to being dropped into a group of strangers, where physical reality takes precedence over emotional self-awareness: in several books, she's naked or clad only in her "underpants" among strangers
as she accomplishes her goal of saving lives, catching criminals and maintaining her own hold on sanity.
This book lets us spend more time in Anna's company and also treats us to a page-turning modern mystery. I have to admit I skimmed over the latter parts of the historical story, which was less compelling than the modern version. the The historical "letters" seemed to use suspiciously contemporary language and imagery.
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on March 1, 2003
Park ranger Anna Pigeon returns once again, as she flees a marriage proposal from Sheriff Paul Davidson to take a temporary assignment as a supervisory ranger at Dry Tortugas National Park on Garden Key, one of the multiple Floridian islands off the Florida mainland.
With the disappearance of fellow ranger, Bob Shaw, one evening, an ocean search with the team of Anna, Bob's wife Teddy, maintenance men Daniel and Mack, and boaters Cliff and Linda leads to a new discovery. On the ocean's floor is a recently exploded boat, and amongst the wreckage are Bob's shoes and pieces of his patrol boat. As the team continues to search for Bob amidst dangerous underwater conditions, new questions arise in Anna's mind as to the sunken boat's expedition.
While each present day chapter ends with a cliffhanger, the alternate chapters offer mystery as well with their focus on letters written by one of Anna's ancestors. Anna's sister Molly has sent her letters that were written to their great-great grandmother from her sister, Raffia, whose husband Joseph was a Union Army captain at Fort Jefferson, on Tortugas, when the Fort housed Union prisoners. Raffia and her teen-aged sister Tilly's aid to a Confederate prisoner led them to become acquainted with the infamous Dr. Mudd, convicted of aiding John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln. With the insufferable Florida heat and fear of possible prison uprising, Raffia's letters result in a mystery of their own, which Anna feels compelled to solve.
Ms. Barr vividly brings to life the surrounds of Garden Key, both in present day and in its past as a Civil War era prison. With twists and turns around every bend, the reader is led on a white-knuckle ride echoing the ghosts of bygone days as well as their impact on the world of the twenty-first century. Nevada Barr is certain to engender new fans of her Anna Pigeon novels with this latest page-turner.
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