Review: THE ROPE by Nevada Barr

THE ROPE is Nevada Barr’s 17th novel featuring nomadic National Parks Service ranger Anna Pigeon, though in a timeline sense it is the first of Anna’s stories. Without any gimmickry or awkward flashback-filled plot devices Barr simply opens this prequel to her popular series in 1995 when Anna has taken a summer job at a national park near Lake Powell, Arizona. She has left her job as a stage manager but still wears the black clothes her former life demanded and, struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her husband, Anna has been distant with her colleagues and new neighbours. So no one is particularly surprised that she and all her belongings disappear one day; all assuming she has returned to New York or moved on to some place that suits her more. In reality, while out hiking on her day off, Anna gets lost then stumbles across a crime in progress which turns out to have very sinister consequences for her  She wakes up groggy and naked and realises she is trapped in a dry well from which there appears to be no escape.

THE ROPE has many of the qualities that I have come to expect from this series including the spectacular setting which is, once again, so deftly described that I feel I too have climbed the canyons and cruised the lake and learned a little more about this poor old planet of ours and the damage we seem determined to do to even the prettiest bits of it. Characters, especially the women, are another strong feature of Barr’s books and this one showcases three very different women. Anna is basically the same person as we see in later books: determined, independent and prone to not doing as she ought though, naturally, not quite as fully formed as she becomes. She remains one of the few fictional characters I’ve ever thought I would like to meet if such things were possible. Her boss for the summer is Jenny Gorman whose job involves collecting the alarmingly large amount of poo the park’s summer visitors deposit where they shouldn’t and trying to educate those same campers on proper poo-managing etiquette (this was an aspect of managing a national park I had never considered but now can’t stop thinking about). Jenny is an intense character whose own dark history is revealed as the story progresses as is her developing love for Anna (she acknowledges that this will be an unrequited love as Anna is not gay though she fleetingly dreams of things being different). The third woman to feature heavily in the book is Bethy, wife of one of the Park Services’ office employees Regis Candor, who, like Anna, undergoes something of a transformation throughout the book. Her husband and the other male characters are less successfully drawn, being somewhat two-dimensional and using awkwardly inserted language that doesn’t feel right for the situation (or maybe it’s just me who has never heard an adult use the word ta-ta’s in a non-ironic sense).

On a less positive note I did find THE ROPE slow, indeed almost glacial for the first half though it picked up a little. This is, I think, due to the book being almost ‘literary’ in the way it focuses on the inner lives and thoughts of Anna, Jenny and Regis & Bethy rather than being driven by complex plotting (honestly the plot is straight-forward and, I thought, fairly predictable). Even though I like Anna I was a little bored by her time in the dry well which lasted a very long time and had almost no suspense at all as it was a given she would escape so she could go on an star in the rest of the series. The other factor that spoiled the book a little for me was that it had one too many near-death escapes for our heroine. On my informal ‘believability scale’ one such escape from almost certain death is required, two is borderline acceptable and three, especially where the situations are very similar, pushes the story into pure fantasy territory. Perhaps this is only because I was listening to it, but by the end, when Anna portentously heads off for what is a blindingly obvious (to everyone but Anna) trap I started thinking of the story as a children’s pantomime where the audience is meant to yell “look out, he’s behind you” at appropriate points. In fact I’m not quite sure that I didn’t actually mumble this under my breath while on public transport.

I did like the book and enjoyed meeting a younger, slightly more vulnerable Anna than I have come to know from later stories but THE ROPE won’t make it to my favourites of the series. If you are an existing fan I’m sure there’s lots here for you but I wouldn’t recommend it as the first place to start for those new to the series and its heroine. I can however recommend the book in audio format, this time ably narrated by Joyce Bean who seems to have permanently (and very competently) taken over narrating the series from Barbara Rosenblat.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

THE ROPE has been reviewed at Kittling: Books (by Cathy who is a true aficionado of the series and was the reader who introduced me to Anna Pigeon.

My other reviews of Nevada Barr’s books are HUNTING SEASON (book #10) FLASHBACK (book #11), BORDERLINE (book #15) and BURN (book #16)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Narrator Joyce Bean
Publisher Brilliance Audio [2012]
ASIN B006VFKYUY
Length 12 hours exactly
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #17 in the Anna Pigeon series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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13 Responses to Review: THE ROPE by Nevada Barr

  1. Sarah says:

    This series in on my list to read, mainly because it has featured regularly in Margot’s posts. Glad you like the books too. You’ve reminded me to start looking up the series.
    I went to Arizona in 2008 and found it an amazing place. I’d love to go back sometime.

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    • Sarah I want to go to each place I’ve read about via Nevada Barr – she does a great job of infusing a love of the country into her books. I think my favourite of the ones I’ve read is BORDERLINE which takes place on the Rio Grande river in Texas – another great setting and a terrific story too. This is a series I feel quite comfortable about dipping in and out of in the wrong order – obviously it plays a little havoc with the personal details of Anna’s life but it doesn’t seem to matter that much unlike many other series where authors almost seem to punish readers who don’t read every book and in order too 🙂

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  2. Cathy says:

    I hadn’t realized that I introduced you to Anna. It’s always nice to go to bed knowing that you did at least one good thing during the day. 🙂

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  3. Kay says:

    I love this series, but haven’t gotten to this one yet. Yes, Nevada Barr does a good job of introducting readers to varous parts of the US landscape. I haven’t read the one set on the Rio Grande, though I should since I’m in Texas. My favorite is probably the one set in Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico. Such a sense of breathlessness there. Literally. I’ve visited the Cavern on more than one occasion and could vividly imagine Anna’s dilemma.

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    • Even though I am reading them all out of order Kay I do intend to go back and read the earlier books – the settings offer a different perspective on the US than most crime fiction gives. I like the sound of New Mexico so might make that the next one to read.

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  4. Bernadette – Your review has highlighted one of the things I like best about this series – the character of Anna Pigeon. I really like her very much and like you, I could see myself wanting to meet her. And I give Barr credit for working in a prequel. That so often falls flat and it’s good to see that it didn’t in this case even if there were things you didn’t like about it.

    You’ve also touched on one of my pet peeves about the series. There are a few too many narrow escapes in the series, and Anna Pigeon is put through so much. I have to say I get a little tired of that. Still, a great series and a real sense of setting. Oh, and an excellent review, too :-).

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  5. Barbara says:

    I’m a devoted Nevada Barr fan too and reviewed The Rope quite a while ago on my blog. I loved this one because it introduced me to the very vulnerable Anna as she got into the National Park Service. She has grown and matured throughout the series which is a plus for me, and I enjoy becoming familiar with all the National Parks she is assigned to.

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  6. Kathy D. says:

    I’m glad to hear some positives about the latest Nevada Barr book. This has always been one of my favorite series and characters. There are two reasons for this: the character of Anna Pigeon and the stupendous writing about each location. As a resident of the States, I have learned something about the ecology of each national park, and, of course, the region in which it’s set. From learning about turtle reproduction in the mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast to Anasazi ruins in the West, to the the topography of Northern Michigan to the desert in Texas and so much more, these books have given me an education about areas I’ll never visit. I do feel like I’m there as do you and so many other readers. This is really armchair traveling at its best.
    I even felt claustrophobic while reading the book set inside a cave, however, it was a good read.
    Now, I wonder about the setting inside a well. One would have to encounter Anna’s demons and fears page after page. She is a terrific character, full of foibles like everyone else, but likeable.
    I will give it a chance. I like Anna too much not to drop in on her and read about her exploits. But this setting? I don’t know. I’ll give it a chance and see what happens.

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    • Kathy I agree it’s the settings that make these books sparkle. I have to make a regular trip to the US to visit family and usually try to go somewhere else in addition to LA where my family lives – next time I think I will make it one of the national parks instead of another city.

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  7. Pingback: Books of the Month – March 2012 | Reactions to Reading

  8. Kathy D. says:

    That sounds like a plan — and a good one. Tell us about it.

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  9. Maxine says:

    I must get around to reading this series, and thanks to your excellent review I may do so now, as it seems as if this would be a good entry point for the series? Mind you, if you started at #10, that sounds good, as there are a heck of a lot of books to catch up on if you start at #1. I love books that convey a strong sense of place.

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  10. Very astute review. I too found the first half to be dreadfully prolonged. Then the second half seemed to have a “monster-gets-back-up” formula to it. I mean, how many times does one ranger go into a life-threatening situation in one week? All in all, I was finally just relieved to be finished with this book.

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