I’m a bit off schedule this month; my husband and I enjoyed another camping trip to the beautiful California desert and I got a bit behind. On everything! So I’m catching up with one of my favorite topics, “Authors I Admire.” This week, it’s Nevada Barr. There’s a lot to admire about Nevada Barr. For starters, there are the books: the amazing Anna Pigeon series, set in national parks across the country. There’s Ms. Barr’s mastery of the craft of writing and her ability to create a suspenseful murder mystery, where the setting is as much of a character as Anna Pigeon herself. And her own service as a park ranger, a job that involved everything from law enforcement in highly developed campgrounds to patrolling the backcountry.
Her name actually is “Nevada.” She was born in Yerington, Nevada in 1952 and her parents named her for the state of Nevada. She was raised in the small town of Susanville, California, the county seat of Lassen County, where her parents ran a regional airport. Her mom sounds like a take-charge kind of person who could wrangle just about anything from airplanes to ranch equipment. Ma. Barr studied acting in college and spent eighteen years as an actor, performing in the theater and doing voice-overs, while wandering from New York to Minneapolis to Mississippi.
After marrying a man who worked in the park service, Ms. Barr became a National Park Service Ranger at the age of 36. Her first parks job was in Isle Royale, which became the setting for two of the Anna Pigeon mystery series. She started writing seriously in 1978, and wanted to focus on female characters. Three women served as role models for strong, capable Anna Pigeon: Nevada Barr’s mom, a pilot and mechanic; her Aunt Peggy, a third-grade teacher in New York City public schools, and her grandmother, a “fighting Quaker Democrat.” (1)
Ms. Barr started her writing career in historical fiction, and then “graduated” to mysteries. The idea for the Anna Pigeon series came to her as she was hiking through the woods. “She thought about the multiple ways a person could die and about the ones she believed would be better off dead.” (1) Track of the Cat, the first Anna Pigeon mystery, was published in 1993. All of the Anna Pigeon mysteries are set in national parks and bring the job of park ranger to life, from navigating the endless bureaucracy to the constant interactions with the public and the tensions of managing the wild-human interface.
Ms. Barr won the 1994 Agatha Award for best first novel of 1993 and the 1994 and the Anthony award for best novel of 1993. She has been awarded the Mississippi Library Association’s Award for fiction. And in 2010 Nevada Barr received the Robin W. Winks Award given to people who enhance public understanding of the National Parks. She also won the 2015 Pinckley Prize for a Distinguished Body of Work for her Anna Pigeon series.
I love these books. Ms. Barr’s writing is fearless. She digs deep and draws the reader in with detail, detail, detail. She knows how to build tension and use setting to enhance that tension. She knows just when to slow things down and speed them up. She builds her character over the series, giving us more insights into Anna’s motivations, intentions, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
There are 19 Anna Pigeon mysteries. As an author who managed to write a three-book series, I am so impressed by the discipline and imagination and fearlessness to write a 19 book series. Here are the books, in order, with their locations.
So if you haven’t read any of these books yet, I suggest you try one. You can pick up a book at any point in the series; there’s plenty of backstory to fill in context and characters. Pick one where the location speaks to you. You won’t be disappointed! I’d also like to add a plug for the audio version: veteran narrator Barbara Rosenblatt brings this series to life with a strong, animated, silky-smooth voice.
Until next time,
(1) Mississippi Writers & Musicians: Nevada Barr https://www.mswritersandmusicians.com/mississippi-writers/nevada-barr