It’s been fourteen years since she was a ranger at Isle Royale National Park, but even Anna Pigeon has never seen it like this before. The island park, sitting out in Lake Superior, closes to tourist and staff alike during the winter. Only a tiny team of hardy wolf researchers braves the dark and frigid January days… and nights. Only a team of wolf researchers and Anna Pigeon, that is.
The occasion is Winter Study, the thirtieth annual observation of the Park’s three small wolf packs. This year, however, the research team’s number is swollen by three: two visiting scientists from Homeland Security and Anna, picking up a few pointers on wolf-moose interactions for her own charge, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. The DHS pair has come, apparently, to evaluate keeping the park (which sits on the Canadian border) open in winter to keep would-be frostback terrorists at bay.
Primitive lodging conditions notwithstanding (brrrr: there’s no running water and no indoor plumbing…), Anna relishes a chance to join the study. After all, she’s a sucker for all things remote and beautiful, and ISRO (as it’s known to its staff) certainly fits that bill. Her remote location, however, becomes critical when a young woman on the team is killed by the wolves - or perhaps not.
Stranded on her remote island with a murderer – whether two- or four-footed, she’s not sure – Anna Pigeon must survive not only a killer, but also Winter’s implacable grip.
If you’ve wondered where Anna Pigeon’s been lately (the three years since 2005’s Hard Truth), that’s pretty simple. Her creator, Nevada Barr, moved to New Orleans in late 2004. That pretty much says it all.
Winter Study, the fifteenth installment in Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, marks the intrepid ranger’s first return to the site of a previous case (1994’s A Superior Death, the second book in the series, was also set at ISRO). Fans will under no circumstances feel cheated, for this installment is in no sense a rerun: Isle Royale in winter is as different from Isle Royale in summer as Frank Sinatra is from Ludacris.
As with all her other novels, Barr’s done the homework for Winter Study – in this case, participating in a real-life winter study on Isle Royale; yes, sans indoor plumbing, yes, during the coldest months of the year. Between that personal experience and her research, Barr creates for her readers a glimpse of a real “winter wonderland.” It’s a land of stark beauty, beauty tempered by an omnipresent sense of killing cold. Winter study ain’t no lap-blanketed sleigh ride in this park!
Instead of a ride in the park, Winter Study is a locked-room mystery, one with a room twenty miles long and no walls. There are only seven characters – Anna and the six researchers – unless you count the three wolf packs, that is. With so small a cast, Barr’s protagonist – never the most social of characters – feels right at home, even as she comes to the realization that one (or more) of the tiny community has something deadly to hide. More gratifying, perhaps, is that Barr’s heroine is a cut above some other female protagonists who blunder into danger with dead cell phones in their Prada bags and broken heels on their Jimmy Choos. Anna Pigeon is different: she faces up to danger clear-eyed, toting a fifty-pound backpack and shod in Sorels. Small wonder she’s been called “America’s favorite Park Ranger.”
Fans of the Anna Pigeon series have waited patiently for the return of their wiry heroine, gray-streaked red braids, plentiful scars, and all. Anna is most certainly back, and we’re glad to see her.