cover image Endangered Species

Endangered Species

Nevada Barr. Putnam Publishing Group, $22.95 (306pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14246-8

Barr possesses that rare combination of talents: she can write a beautiful sentence and create a first-rate mystery. In this fifth in the series (Firestorm, 1996), National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon is on temporary assignment at drought-ridden Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Georgia coast, on presuppression fire duty. Patrols are interrupted by an airplane crash that kills pilot Slattery Hammond, who was conducting drug-interdiction flights, and Todd Belfore, Cumberland district ranger. When foul play is suggested, investigators wonder if the murderer was after Hammond, Belfore or Cumberland's chief ranger, Norman Hull, whom Belfore replaced in the plane at the last minute. Barr, who is a former Park Service Ranger, evokes the minimally developed island's shimmering beauty while spinning an absorbing tale of danger and deceit that embraces a realistic description of conservation work and a diverse, engaging cast. An affecting subplot is developed when Anna's lover, FBI agent Frederick Stanton, and her psychiatrist sister, Molly, meet. A refreshing change from the brash, wisecracking order of female PIs, Barr's thoughtful and sensitive heroine (""This murder was... intricate, slow-moving, relationships unclear, each aspect draped or veiled by something else,"" she observes midway through the investigation) rings true on every page. Readers Digest Condensed Book. (Mar.)