27 June 2008

Winter with wolves and worse

I'm really lucky to have been in National Parks all over the U.S. Our parents and grandparents devoted resources to these gems that helped make visiting them wonderful. Those investments have allowed most of them to remain welcoming and wonderful to visit in spite of 25-30 years of deferred maintenance, reduced staffing, and the need to devote more and more resources to law and order and homeland security. [grumble... grumble... rant ending]

My experiences in national parks probably contribute to my attraction to Nevada Barr's mysteries. She's a former park ranger and all of her books are set in national parks. I like the realism of the settings as well as the institutional relationships that she describes in the books.

She writes graphically about the places and does a great job describing the characters. I get the impression that she works hard at the action scenes in her book, but they're often too detailed for my taste. How can I feel the fear and panic of the character stranded on a Lake Superior ice floe when I'm reading details about the ice edge and the character's efforts to keep the ice sheet from flipping over while removing her bulky backpack?

Barr demonstrated the power of her descriptive abilities to me when she scared me off from finishing the book she set in Carlsbad Cavern (Blind Descent). Other times, I've been totally involved, as I was in Firestorm.

I finished Barr's newest book, Winter Study, and it wasn't the best of the lot. It's still well worth reading on a summer weekend. I wouldn't want to read it in the winter.

Like Superior Death, Winter Study is set in Isle Royale National Park. However, the setting is a park abandoned to winter and to a small group of researchers who are part of a 50-year-long study of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale.

That setting makes this book a little like the locked-room mysteries set in British manor houses. There's even a point in Barr's book where one of her characters suggests that eveyone in the little group on the island is suspecting everyone else of murder. She adds a seeming bit of mysticism to the pot, but it's only a red herring.

The mixture makes for an intriguing story about tragedy, revenge, death, and a small, isolated group. Maybe it's plot line for television's Lost or Survivor.

For me, the action scenes were distractions. The descriptions are too complex. Barr manages suspense a lot better than fight scenes. And the injuries she inflicts on her main character in the climactic fight for survival are unbelievable. Maybe my banging around and minor injuries on the high school football field didn't prepare me for understanding and empathizing with the adrenaline and pain of a hand to hand fight for life.

Overall, I liked the book. I could look at the warm summer scene out my window when the shivering of the characters got too real. It wasn't, however, one of my favorite Nevada Barr mysteries.

Did you read Winter Study? What did you think of it?

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Kevin R. Tipple has left a new comment on your post "Winter with wolves and worse":

Well, I felt the fear. I thought the detailed description part of her trying not to flip the ice sheet while removing the pack was a major point of describing the scene.

Thanks for linking my epinions review.

Kevin R. Tipple