Multitasking

January 18, 2007

I always like it when my pet interests intersect. Lately I’ve been running through the library’s selection of audio books by Nevada Barr, which allows me to indulge in reasonably well-written mysteries, National Park settings, and readings by Barbara Rosenblat all at the same time.

National Parks are some of my favorite places on Earth (particularly Zion in southern Utah), and Barr does a nice job evoking the settings and their majestic qualities without descending too deep into purple prose. As an added benefit, I haven’t yet been to any of the parks she’s used as a setting in the books I’ve listened to (Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Dry Tortugas), so it’s like getting a preview. (I’m assuming any trip I make to these destinations won’t include the quantity of violent mayhem ranger-sleuth Anna Pigeon encounters.)

Pigeon is a very solid protagonist. She’s tough and intelligent, but not to any super-heroic degree. Barr is fairly generous in sharing Pigeon’s process of deduction, which allows the reader to play along. And since that process generally consists of rumination and speculation instead of lab results and Internet searches, the reader gets to know her pretty well. I like that she’s a little antisocial, preferring the quiet, natural spaces to developed, populated ones. I like that she’s older, too, and that she relies on experience as much as instinct.

I’m not crazy about some of the protracted, violent set pieces that Barr inserts in her novels. They verge on sadism, and while none of the events described are particularly outlandish (at least in the context of the stories), they are outlined in what strikes me as needless detail. And the length of them tends to undermine the suspense generated. I understand the need to put a protagonist in peril, but Barr sometimes crosses the line from scary into icky.

I always enjoy Rosenblat’s readings. Her best work is in the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters, but her other performances are solid as well. (It’s not her fault that I want to strangle Goldy Schulz, and I often suspect that Rosenblat shares my point of view.)