Review: Burn by Nevada Barr

National Parks Ranger Anna Pigeon is on administrative leave as she is recovering from recent traumatic events and decides to head to New Orleans where she can stay with a friend, Geneva. One of Geneva’s tenants, a creepy bloke named Jordan, appears to curse Anna using voodoo for no real reason which makes Anna very suspicious. Upon following him into the very seediest parts of post-Katrina New Orleans she becomes involved in a very grim situation involving child sex slavery.

At the same time as these events unfold, another story is also being laid out in intervening chapters. In Seattle, after a late night run to the chemist, Clare Sullivan comes home to find that her husband, her two young daughters and their nanny are all missing from the house. After searching all over she runs next door to see if the neighbours know anything but the house explodes into flames and when they die down firefighters walk out of the wreckage with three bodies, assumed to be her husband and their children. Clare is thought to have murdered them all but goes on the run before she can be arrested.

As you might imagine the two stories end up intertwining, though in a rather unexpected way (though it wouldn’t be so unexpected if you read most of the blurbs and other reviews which give away a fairly major plot point that I was glad I did not know when I started the book).

Although I missed Anna being in the beautiful natural environment of one of the national parks I still enjoyed Barr’s skill at creating a sense of location, this time the city of New Orleans, which is depicted here with beauty and ugliness both and as much more than the tourist destination or news-headline the name conjures up for most. The last part of the story, which takes place inside a club catering to the most perverse sexual tastes is equally well described, if not nearly as enjoyable to immerse oneself in.

Having two main characters whose stories are told in alternating chapters was another difference for this book from any of the others I have read. I liked the structure; particularly in the second half of the book it really added successfully to the build up of tension. I was less taken with the character of Clare, though I can appreciate that Barr was trying something new to keep a series fresh. I can’t give details about what didn’t work for me without giving away plot spoilers so I’ll just say that I didn’t find the focus on Clare’s ‘unique psychology’ particularly engaging. I also thought that it was a bit too easy for Clare to have been a theatre company actor which allowed her to have a diverse range of skills, knowledge and insight that the average suburban mother just would not have.

Overall though the book was compelling, even when the subject matter got very tough to handle. On that score I give Barr credit for not incorporating excessive or gratuitous descriptions of horrid things happening to children, though one’s own imagination does fill in the gaps grimly enough. This is not a book for the faint-hearted but is a well-written, intelligently plotted mystery. It’s worth reading for the character of Anna alone who continues to evolve, grow, make mistakes and generally be a very credible human being. I’m looking forward to number 17.

What about the audio book?

I was a bit wary of this edition because it’s a different narrator than has read the previous two Anna Pigeon books to me but Joyce Bean did an excellent job and I quickly forgot that Anna used to speak with a different voice. The wide range of accents and complex dialogue must have been a stretch for any narrator but Bean sounded like a natural.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The only review I could find of Burn which did not have any nasty big plot spoilers was at Kittling Books (because Cathy just wouldn’t do that sort of thing)

I have reviewed two of the Anna Pigeon books Hunting Season and Borderline

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Author website
Narrator Joyce Bean
Publisher Brilliance Audio [2010]
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 12 hours
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #16 in the Anna Pigeon series
Source I bought it

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8 Responses to Review: Burn by Nevada Barr

  1. Maxine says:

    I’ve been thinking about starting this series when (if I ever) finish the Joe Pickett novels by C J Box, which I enjoy and seem to be on similar themes, though Box sets his in Wyoming. (Though some of the jurisdictional confusions which you mention in your review of an earlier book in the series occur in Box’s novels, too!). It is surprising to me that books about a topic in which I have little interest (forest rangers etc) are so enjoyable. I think it is because that, as well as the settings, the plot and characters take precedence- the setting is the context, not the main event. If the same is true of Nevada Barr’s books, this could be one of the reasons why this one, in which the protag is in a different environment, still “works”.

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  2. kathy durkin says:

    There are two excellent features to Nevada Barr’s books; one is the descriptions of the environment of each setting, in detail, and the other is Anna Pigeon’s character. She is interesting and very human. Barr writes of her thinking process and her fears and anxieties in each challenging situation.
    Anna Pigeon is a terrific protagonist, one of the best in U.S. mystery fiction.
    I’ve read nearly all of this series, and have enjoyed them. One or two have plots which defy credibility but that’s okay. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of them.
    I was going to read “Burn,” and it was at the library on reserve, but a dastardly fire in the building next door to mine, which devastated one-half of the building, and injured some tenants, led me to not want to read the book then. Now I will reconsider reading it, and put it back on the TBR list.

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  3. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. I’d have to agree that Nevada Barr really does do a top-notch job at settings. I like Anna in her own setting (Haven’t read this one yet, so I don’t know how I’ll feel about her being elsewhere), but Barr does do setting well. And this one does sound compelling.

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  5. Cathy says:

    I try very hard not to give away plot points (although at times it seems as though few of us do), so thanks for the “vote of confidence”!

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  6. Joyce Bean says:

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on the audio edition, and for your kind review. It is much appreciated to be recognized for my work. Let the publisher know you liked it if you wouldn’t mind – every good word helps keep me employed, and I live what I do! Best – Joyce

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