Barr is one of my favorite thriller writers and never fails to deliver a page-turner that plunges into the dark heart of mankind and the evil deeds done in the name of power and profit. Newly married (and her husband, Paul, on duty in another city), Ranger Anna Pigeon has left her beloved mountains for New Orleans, mending from recent wounds and visiting a blind blues singer, Geneva, who is both wise and practical. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Anna, a cop to her bones. It is in Anna’s nature to sniff out discrepancies and follow her instincts wherever they might lead.
In most cases, this tendency to snoop has nearly gotten Anna killed - why should this story be any different? While at Geneva’s on her enforced rest, Anna is curious about one of her friend’s new tenants, a “gutter punk” named Jordan who works late as a bartender in a local strip bar. The tattooed Jordan has no love for Anna, either; both cast suspicious glances at each other from their first encounter. Gutter punks are not remarkable in post-Katrina New Orleans, new-age travelers who eschew soap and water and find safety in numbers.
Across the country in Seattle, law enforcement searches for a woman accused of killing her husband, David, and two young daughters in an arson-murder that destroyed her home. Claire Sullivan is still at large. And since this is a Nevada Barr novel, this seemingly random storyline will at some point merge with the first, all the action centered in ailing New Orleans, where survivors struggle to rebuild and criminals slink back into the dark corners of the city to prey on the usual victims of poverty and drugs.
Barr’s New Orleans, while shattered by Katrina, has taken on the usual forms of human activity: rebuilding, criminal enterprise, graft and the enthusiastic celebration of music and sex that has so defined it. While the rich hide behind power and gentility, the poor scatter to low-paying jobs, including the strippers who bare their bodies but not their secrets at the bar where Jordan serves drinks and Anna follows, certain the unattractive Jordan is up to something illegal. Anna gets her answers, but not the ones she is expecting, embarking on a harrowing journey to the heart of evil so ugly that it’s hard not to turn away.
With her vivid imagination and thirst for justice for the disenfranchised, Barr tackles yet another face of human misery in the world we inhabit, a glimpse into horrors most people never have reason to think about. The perfect protagonist, newly married or not, Anna Pigeon is unable to turn away from the helpless, unable to resist lending a hand to the truly desperate. There are times when it doesn’t matter if you live or die, where justice is more important than salvation. In this case, Anna doesn’t have a choice - and neither does Barr, who writes with a fierce heart.