Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Burn by Nevada Barr

Title: Burn
Author: Nevada Barr 
ISBN: 9780312614560
Publisher: Minotaur, 2010
Hardcover, 384 pages
Genre: #16 Anna Pigeon mystery
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

First Line: "Shit, Blackie, this one's dead, too."

In this, her sixteenth outing, National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon is still recuperating from the events of Winter Study and Borderline. While her husband, Paul, keeps on working, Anna stays with a friend in post-Katrina New Orleans, little knowing that she's soon going to be fighting for what's right out in the concrete jungle.

While staying in one of her friend's apartments, Anna sees the creepy Jordan, a bartender by night and a "gutter punk" by day. Observing some of Jordan's behavior, Anna comes to believe he's a pedophile. But Jordan is not what he seems, and his connection to Clare Sullivan, an actress whose family was murdered in Seattle, is at the very heart of Barr's powerful plot.

If I'd known how good this book was, I would've kissed Barr when I attended her author signing at a local bookstore. For some reason, I caught on almost immediately to one of Barr's surprises, and I was able to gobble this book up at a fast clip. (In comparison, my husband was listening to the audio version and was confused. When I ascertained that he was within a very few pages of the reveal, I clued him in, and he settled down to enjoy the book, too.)

Anna isn't all that much different in the wilds of New Orleans as she is out in the middle of a national park, as you can see from her thoughts on the local "gutter punks":

These kids were not her brand of criminal. She wasn't well versed in their migration patterns, did not know their natural habitat, what they preyed upon or what preyed upon them-- but people who valued fear and enjoyed pain were scary. Healthy animals, bunnies and foxes and cougars and grizzlies, ran from what frightened them and avoided pain at all costs. When they stopped behaving this way it was because they were sick, rabid.

Anna may not be in Kansas anymore, but her observations are finely tuned.

A word of warning: this book deals honestly and in some detail with the loathsome subject of child sexual abuse and pornography. Did I enjoy the subject matter? No. Did I secretly harbor a tiny little wish that Anna was in a park keeping visitors away from the bears? Yes, for a few pages. However, one of the most important things I've loved about the character of Anna Pigeon throughout sixteen books is that she constantly evolves as a person.

At the beginning of the series, she fought for what she believed in, but if she could get away with staying away from people, that's what she would do. She's kicked her dependence on alcohol, she's learned to trust another human enough to fall in love and marry, she's knowingly coming to the end of her career, and she's still brave enough to fight-- and in fact she puts more of her heart into the battle than she ever did before.

In Burn, Anna found herself in a situation that literally made her sick, but children needed her desperately, and she refused to turn her back. You can't ask for better than that.

Imagine my surprise when I went to Amazon to check out the reviews for what I believe to be an excellent book, and found that it was rated 2.5 stars out of 5. Why? The subject matter.

"There's so much ugliness in the world today that I refuse to read about it for fun."

There's a lot of truth to that statement; however, I can't help but feel that many of these people turning up their noses at Barr's choice of subject matter in this book would also turn their heads and refuse to see when confronted face-to-face with the actual horror. (It's so nasty and uncomfortable, don't you know?)

I read most of the reviews, and it seemed to boil down to a consumer's version of Tough Love: Write about what I want you to write about, or I won't buy your books. I want blue skies and sunshine and cute animals!

Fair enough. I'm happy to let everyone read what they want, as long as I get to do the same. I'll continue to enjoy Anna's evolution as a character wherever she may roam, and I won't tell y'all that Anna will be at Lake Powell the next time she appears. I'll keep all that azure water, sky and sunshine to myself. I don't know about the cute animals, though. I've seen plenty of birds, fish and lizards at Lake Powell....


  1. I loved the interview with Nevada Barr and I too like the fact that Anna isn't a one-dimensional character. If a character isn't growing, evolving, what good is she? I'm dying to read this one but on a skimpy book budget at the moment. More's the pity.

  2. I'm a little behind in my Nevada Barr reading. I'm going to have to go back and see where I left off. However, I may just go ahead and read this one. I enjoyed your post here, Cathy, and your commentary about the Amazon ratings. I'm a little frustrated with people in that regard myself.

  3. Anna sounds like an intriguing character!

  4. Barbara-- Definitely a pity. I think it's one of her best books.

    Kay-- Most of the time it seems that people don't use the Amazon rating system properly. I post reviews over there, and I keep an eye on my percentages since I'm an Amazon Vine member. When I saw that these people were going through and marking as "helpful" any review that agreed with them and marking as "unhelpful" any review that said Burn was good, I decided discretion was the better part of valor. I marked it as 5 star without posting my actual review. It's too bad Amazon can't overhaul the system.

    Dorte-- She is, and for some reason your comment made me realize that my review almost made it sound as though everyone should read ugly, disturbing subject matter all the time. That's certainly not what I think. If that's the only thing I could read, I think I wouldn't be a voracious reader!

  5. Readers are entitled to be squeamish, of course, and there are subjects I find it hard to read about, but what I thought when I had read your post was that some people cry "wolf" very soon without even having given the book a chance. I enjoy some books which include crimes against children and young women, others I loathe, but I try to be fair to the writer by explaining WHY it was too much for me.

  6. I think we all have a line we draw, and for me at any rate, that line has moved as i grow older. I think I would definitely like this as i loved her other books. But I tried to read Sebold's The Lovely Bones and had to quit.

  7. Dorte-- That "why" can be a very important part of the review.

    Susan-- I have to admit that The Lovely Bones did bother me a bit, but I did finish it.


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