A sense of menace is pervasive and insistent in Destroyer Angel. Barr pulls out all the stops in an endurance test between two female campers and their daughters and the four thugs who kidnap them in upstate Minnesota’s Iron Range, where they have gone with park ranger Anna Pigeon to test a new product. Needing a break, Anna is happy to guide her friends on the trek: Heath, a paraplegic testing a new wheelchair designed by the brilliant Leah, who adapts sports equipment for the disabled, and their daughters Elizabeth and Katie, fifteen and thirteen, respectively. While Elizabeth, a cult survivor, is closely attuned to her mother’s needs, Leah’s emotional distance from Katie has created the opposite effect in her offspring.
Unaware that their peaceful sojourn is about to be shattered, the women and their daughters settle into the camp while Anna enjoys a much-needed respite away from all in her canoe, reveling in nature’s ability to heal her weary soul. Meanwhile, three hardened criminals are led through the wilderness by the cold-eyed Charles, who is never referred to by name, only as “the dude.” The dude is chronically out of sorts, having to work with men he considers less than qualified and likely to make mistakes. To be sure, Sean Ferris, Jimmy Spinks and Reg Waters are followers, requiring a strong hand to guide them. their eyes are the payoff, none prepared or experienced in traversing the wilderness. Only the dude knows the score, the reason behind the kidnapping and the man behind it all, Mr. Big, whom he contacts via satellite phone along the way.
After the collision between aggressors and victims has put to rest any pretense of normalcy, Barr works her magic through character development and the exigencies of environment. Anna not yet returned to the camp, the others are able to mask her presence with subterfuge, the ranger really their only hope for salvation on a forced march toward an airstrip where the group will be transported away. The real targets are Leah and her daughter, but a lie claiming Heath’s family will pay for her return allows the paraplegic and her daughter to be counted as valuable- at least until she is too much of a liability. It is in these early interactions that the die is cast, the dude repulsed by physical disability, unable to look at Heath directly and all too willing to end her life given any excuse.
The journey becomes an ordeal for both the victims, who are beaten into submission and taxed beyond any reasonable expectations, and the ill-prepared predators, who have no experience with nature’s obstacles or the patience to deal with myriad problems along the way. Thanks to Leah’s ingenuity, the chair is crudely adapted for travel, the others assisting Heath in her desperation not to be cast aside with a bullet in her head. Stealthily, Anna tracks the none-too-quiet group, scrambling for any opportunity to decrease their numbers. There is a constant, grueling battle between the brutal males and the women, who have only their wits and determination to save them.
The most interesting thing about this harrowing misadventure is Anna’s adaptation to circumstances, from rule-minded ranger to feral survivor, capable of killing, drawing strength from primitive instincts and her knowledge of the terrain, culling every advantage from her surroundings, including the howling of wolves and the myth of the winding. Told from the perspectives of Anna, Heath, Leah and the dude, the thriller is often violent, the struggle as much physical as mental, even Anna driven nearly to distraction by the demands placed on her body. To the last page, there is no let up in a story that is emotionally draining and exhaustive in its examination of humanity in extremis, only the vagaries of fate and the bonds of friendship saving this battered group from despair. But hey, it’s Anna Pigeon—broken, beaten, but uncowed. The nightmare will come later.