The Rope by Nevada Barr

For 16 books, readers have known Anna Pigeon as a courageous and resourceful Park Ranger with a bit of a loner streak and a tendency to drown her sorrows in alcohol.  Before Anna entered the Park Service, however, she was a happily married Stage Manager in New York City.  In The Rope, Barr takes us back to the very beginning of Anna’s new life away from the hustle & bustle of the big city.   Grieving the death of her husband Zack and needing to escape the city they shared together, Anna takes a seasonal position at the Glen Canyon Recreation Area.  Her inexperience shows as she sets off on a challenging hike wearing city clothes/shoes and carrying far too little water.  Somehow, she ends up at the bottom of a natural pit with no memory of how she got there.  Fighting thirst and delirium, she struggles to piece together what happened: did she fall or was she pushed?  Meanwhile, her coworkers assume she’s decided the National Park Service isn’t for her and returned to the city – someone has removed her belongings from the cabin she shares with Jenny.

I always find it difficult to set aside an Anna Pigeon novel but this was absolutely impossible to put down – I mean, Anna’s at the bottom of a pit in the desert and no one even knows to look for her.  Yowza.  Her wilderness survival skills are zero but she’s smart – and now that she’s facing death, she realizes that she does want to continue living, even without Zack.   I loved seeing Anna’s transformation from someone just going through the motions of life to the strong, determined character we know today.  I also loved seeing this former city-girl learn to love nature.  Jenny and Buddy are awesome – I love how Buddy makes Anna realize that there are companions she would share her last drops of water with.  As always, Barr brings the beauty of our parks to life but I was surprised at how well she tied Anna’s former life in the theater to her current circumstances – Anna’s use of her theater background to plan her escape was brilliant.

Barr’s always been skilled at crafting a solid mystery but she outdoes herself this time, planting a good bit of misdirection.  I reread The Rope almost immediately after finishing it because I wanted to catch the clues I hadn’t fully appreciated the first time around.  I remain convinced that there is more than one monster in this story – one was just less twisted than the other.

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