Barr, Nevada. Track of the Cat. New York: G.P. Putnam Sons, 1993.

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It seems so many people I know love Nevada Barr, and the premise for her mystery series is right up my alley, really: a park ranger who moves around the national parks in this country and encounters one adventure and mystery after another. When I grow up, I want to be a park ranger who moves around the country and solves mysteries. I read one of hers a number of years ago and enjoyed it (can’t remember which one), but I’m a stickler for wanting to read things in order, so I decided to go back to the beginning with this, her first. This one takes place in Guadeloupe National Park, which I didn’t even know was a national park (shows what a good park ranger I’d actually make), in West Texas.

The book introduces Anna Pigeon and suggests that she has moved from New York City out to the Southwest to get away from sad memories associated with the sudden, violent death of her husband. We don’t know what she did in New York, but now she’s out here studying cougars in the park. When she stumbles across a fellow ranger’s dead body, at first it seems like the woman was a victim of one of these cougars. Anna quickly begins to realize, though, that something isn’t quite right about this kill. The clues left at the scene don’t point to the way that either a cougar or a park ranger would behave. So now, we’re off and running with what turns out to be a very good mystery, especially for a first-time effort.

Anna has a sister who is a psychologist back in New York. I not only enjoyed Anna’s mystery, but I also enjoyed getting to know her character a little better via the phone conversations she has with this sister. These conversations are interspersed throughout the book. I like this technique Barr chose to use, and she’s a skillful writer. Her dialogue between the two sisters never rings false or seems too formal, and she doesn’t rely on the device too much, just enough to keep the reader’s interest.

Barr’s written plenty more in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading them. She hasn’t written too many that take place in national parks I’ve actually visited, but I bet the ones that do will be even more fun to read. If you’re looking for a solid mystery with an endearing sleuth, this book is for you.

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