“Track of the Cat” by Nevada Barr is a mystery story set against the high-country trails of the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas, where the age-old battle of man against nature is fought with a frightening twist. It’s the first novel in her Anna Pigeon series, which revolves around the adventures of a National Park Service ranger named Anna Pigeon. In “Track of the Cat,” Anna is stationed at the fictional West Texas’s Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Barr, having been a park ranger herself, offers readers an authentic portrayal of the national parks, the beauty and peril of the wild, and the unique challenges and experiences faced by those who work there.
In “Track of the Cat”, readers are introduced to Anna Pigeon, a ranger stationed at the lesser-known Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The mystery unfurls with the grim discovery of a ranger’s body, the immediate cause of death believed to be a cougar attack. However, Anna’s intuition and her love for the wild creatures of the park make her question this theory. As more bodies turn up, her conviction strengthens, and she finds herself ensnared in a deepening web of intrigue.
I’ve spent some time in the West Texas desert when I lived in San Angelo and then in Abilene, so one of the novel’s strong points for me is its setting. Barr, a former park ranger herself, vividly captures the desolate beauty of the West Texas desert, so much so that readers can almost feel the scorching heat and the rugged rocks beneath their feet. She crafts a realm where the beauty of nature contrasts sharply with the underlying threat of a murderer on the loose. Anna’s treks into the park’s backcountry sound inviting despite the lack of water sources, speaking to the allure of the untouched wilderness.
Nevada Barr’s protagonist, Anna Pigeon, is a well-developed character with depth and complexity. Her background as a widow escaping her past in New York, a distant relationship with her psychiatrist sister that allows for introspective moments, and her struggle with alcoholism, paint a portrait of a woman who is at once tough and vulnerable. Her worldly cynicism is tempered by her deep appreciation for nature. However, her near-superhero escapades towards the story’s climax may stretch believability for some readers but for me, it made suspenseful reading.
The plot, tension-filled, is interlaced with intricate park politics, infighting among rangers, and age-old disputes between ranchers and conservationists. The stakes rise when it becomes clear that condemning a cougar for the murders could have devastating environmental and political consequences. Anna’s tenacity in uncovering the truth leads her on a treacherous path, putting her squarely in the crosshairs of a killer. The ending, while unexpected and generally satisfying, leaves readers with a few unresolved threads and potential missteps in the realm of the mystery writers’ code.
Reading “Track of the Cat” feels like shadowing Anna through the sunbaked canyons and peaks, sensing the imminent danger posed by both nature and man. Anna’s sleuthing skills are excellent, with her logic and intuition guiding her through the twisted trails of the investigation. It is a Southwestern mystery that showcases Nevada Barr’s talent both as a mystery writer and a natural storyteller. Her authentic depiction of park ranger life and the intricacies of human-nature relationships is engaging. It’s no surprise she clinched the Agatha Award for best first mystery with this offering. Anna’s journey alongside the reader, working to decipher the crime, makes for a thrilling experience and a good read.
Nevada Barr is an American author of mystery fiction and known for her Anna Pigeon series of which “Track of the Cat” is the first. Her work is primarily set in a series of national parks and other protected areas of the United States.
Nevada Barr’s Website https://nevadabarr.com/