Nevada Barr's park ranger heroine, Anna Pigeon, is a lot of fun to hang out with. You get to see the National Parks from a new perspective, the rangers' eye view.
Pigeon is stationed permanently at the Natchez Trace, in Mississippi, but she is on a temporary reassignment to assist with a grizzly bear census at Glacier National Park, in Montana. The "blood lure" of the title is an incredibly foul grizzly aphrodisiac that the team is smearing in the woods by the bucketloads to attract bears. On their first night out, Anna and her two colleagues, the "Bear DNA Lady" and a young intern, are attacked by a bear. The intern flees into the woods, and in the search for him, the body of a woman is discovered a few miles away. Her neck is broken and one side of her face has been removed with a knife. And she is the intern's stepmother.
Those are the bones of the story. The fleshing out includes explaining a mysterious seemingly feral boy who turns up like a gentle Pan. It includes the discovery that the intern's stepmother was not the admirable heroine her stepson made her out to be. Throw in a sleazy lover from Florida, an abandoned horse trailer, and the inexplicable disappearance of bear forage, the attack on the camp by a bear too big to be real, and you have a puzzle of delightful intricacy.
In this novel, determining the nature of the crime is part of the puzzle. Did her husband kill her for a good reason? Did her stepson take revenge on her for a strangely tangled reason? Was it the lover? When the villain emerges, the crime of murder takes backstage to other ethical and moral issues.
Barr does not include her repertory company of continuing characters, except by reference, and their absence gives the novel a fresh feel. Sister Molly, the psychiatrist, is busy in New York and Anna's access to phones is limited. Anna's former beau, FBI agent Stanton, is out of the picture, having been appropriated two novels ago by Molly. Even Anna's new boyfriend, the married sheriff back in Mississippi, does not figure in the story. Anna's menagerie, Piedmont the cat and Taco the three-legged dog, is offstage as well, left behind.
As with the best of the Anna Pigeon books, Barr gives us great local colorthe topography, flora and fauna of Glacier all play a major role in the action. The attack on the camp is vivid and breathtaking, and the bears move in and out of the story as effectively as they do in Dana Stabenow's Breakup and Hunter's Moon.
You may, as I did, "figure it out" a few chapters ahead of Pigeon. I got ahead of her in Firestorm and kept reading because her characters and situations still interested me. Here I was a bit exasperated with her for being so slow; she had the same facts I had. But the climax and conclusion make up for the frustration.
Overall it's not the best of the Pigeon books but a good read nonetheless. I still prefer A Superior Death and Blind Descent, with Deep South and Firestorm in the running for favorite. But I expect I'll come back to this one too, in a year or so.
Buy Blood Lure at Amazon.com.
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