Book review: Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr

Track of the Cat
by Nevada Barr
Berkley, 2003; first published 1993
Anna Pigeon #1

Anna Pigeon is a ranger in the US park service, proficient at the outdoor life. She’s out on a hike in the wilderness of the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas when she comes across the body of a fellow-ranger, Sheila Drury, who has apparently been killed by a lion. It isn’t until Anna is over her initial shock and has escorted the corpse to base that she begins to feel suspicious about the cause of death. Her disgust at the hunt her colleagues rapidly organise to kill an animal to placate the tourists and the locals leads her to investigate the circumstances in more detail. After escorting Sheila’s mother to the trailer where the dead woman lived in order to sort through her possessions, Anna is even more convinced that an animal of the human, rather than feline, variety is responsible for her colleague’s death.

The novel is mainly concerned with Anna’s investigation of her colleagues, the most interesting of whom is the secretary Christine, who becomes a friend despite Anna’s suspicions of her (and indeed, everybody). The rangers are less well-depicted, but even so Anna is not short of leads or ideas about their possible involvement. Anna’s mission to find the truth is told against a background of this area of natural beauty, confidently described at many levels of detail by the author, as well as the various tensions between environmentalists, game hunters, and the bureaucratic polices of the park service.

The reader is aware that Anna is a woman suffering great sorrow, the cause of which gradually becomes clear. Anna’s main support is her sister Molly, a New York psychoanalyst whose sardonic wisdom, provided by telephone, is a highlight of the novel. The personality of Anna, and her own story, are more interesting than the standard-issue crime plot, and will doubtless develop in interesting ways in the future. Another great strength of this novel is the setting: not only is the area beautifully described, but the various competing interests are compellingly put in a way that engages the reader’s attention and does not oversimplify any one point of view.

I thank Sarah of Crimepieces for kindly sending me this book. Her review of it is here.

In the Spotlight: Margot Kinberg’s analysis of this novel.

Other reviews of Track of the Cat: Kirkus reviews, Suite 101 and Pequea Valley readers’ blog.

About the book at the author’s website. It won both the Anthony and the Agatha awards for best first novel. There are now 17 novels in the series.