After an interlude in Montana and Canada in Blood Lure (2001), Anna Pigeon returns to the Mississippi Natchez Trace Parkway of Deep South (2000) in Barr's 10th book to feature the peripatetic national park ranger, though with its haphazard plot and fitful action it's not one of the author's best. The feisty Anna, now district ranger of the Port Gibson District, is still adjusting to her supervisory position and dealing with her resentful male staff. Her quiescent love life has blossomed with Paul Davidson, an ordained Episcopal minister and the sheriff of neighboring Claiborne County. When the nude body of Doyce Barnette turns up at Mt. Locust, a historic plantation and inn in the Natchez Trace Parkway, the dead man appears to have been the victim of a ritual killing, but it doesn't fit with his prosaic lifestyle. Anna works with the local sheriff, Clintus Jones, on a slippery case with a few motiveless suspects and fewer clues. Although it's hunting season, there doesn't seem to be a connection; the body shows odd marks and the cause of death is vague. Barnette's brother, an undertaker with political ambitions, is helpful but curt, his mother belligerent and uninformative. After Anna receives a couple of threats, she and Clintus discover they're investigating two different cases, and Anna finds out she has an enemy within the park service. As usual, the writing is first-rate, with vivid characters and atmospheric background. Even when she's not at the top of her form, Barr outshines most other authors in the mystery genre. National author tour. (Feb. 18)
Forecast:Some fans may be disappointed that Barr has stopped moving her heroine around the national park system, but Anna's ongoing romance with Paul should attract new readers and keep existing ones happy.