3.5 stars. Track of the Cat is the first volume of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, in which a National Park Service law enforcement ranger roots out nefarious doings in our nation’s treasured outdoors. This whodunnit finds Anna working at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. On a study hike for mountain lion research, she finds the body of a fellow ranger with marks of lion attack. However, something doesn’t sit well with Anna, especially after her own near-death experience on the trail…
The plot is well-paced and makes for a good page-turning read. As a good mystery should, the “reveal” was a surprise, yet fully suggested by what came before–I didn’t see it coming, but the clues were there. Sections of the book are tense and fraught with danger, especially as Anna fights her way up a cliff after a suspicious trail collapse, a tense tailing of a suspect (with a really satisfying outcome), and the final encounter with the killer.
Anna is a complex character, not always likeable but always interesting. The strength of the book from a character perspective is her relationships with coworker Christina Walters and her sister, who is a psychiatrist in New York City and Anna’s link to the life she left behind after the death of her husband. Bits and pieces of Anna’s past are revealed, but I suspect there is much more to come in subsequent volumes.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the park: its landscape, flora and fauna, politics, and debates about its use. The author’s love of the land and the duties of a park ranger are obvious. While I haven’t made it to Guadalupe Mountains, hiking opportunities from multiple business trips to El Paso have made me familiar with the starkly beautiful desert southwest that she writes about. I liked being able to “place” the action through the hiking map of the park. Track of the Cat had me ready to hit Guadalupe Mountains’ trails, for sure.
A couple of odd things I noticed about Barr’s writing: she spends a lot of time name-checking different perfumes, and the bosoms of all the female characters are mentioned rather prominently in their descriptions. I was not expecting to get a bit of education on fragrances and breasts from this book!
Track of the Cat is a readable, enjoyable thriller, with particular appeal to me because of Nevada Barr’s understanding of and insight into the National Parks. I will gladly read on in the Anna Pigeon series.