Destroyer Angel: An Anna Pigeon Novel
Following Nevada Barr’s 17th installment of the Anna Pigeon series two years ago (THE ROPE), paraplegic Heath Jarrod and Elizabeth, the young abused child Heath subsequently adopted, reappear from novels past. Leah Hendricks and her in-name-only biological daughter, Katie, accompany the others, along with Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, to Minnesota’s North Woods. For her über-successful sporting goods business, Leah had developed Robo-butt, a wheelchair ATV of sorts for invalids to enjoy the great outdoors. Heath brings along her charming mutt, Wily.
On the second evening of their excursion, Anna seeks solitude canoeing upstate Minnesota’s Fox River. Returning to camp, Heath’s uncharacteristic loud voice warns Anna that something is amiss. Four thugs kidnap the women. “Evil hung around [Sean] like a cloud of gnats.” Reg is a demon who “roamed the earth and did not yet realize he was one of them.” There’s coward Jimmy, and ring leader Charles, known to the victims as “Dude.”
These “four jackasses of the apocalypse” are there to kidnap wealthy Leah and teenager Katie for ransom. It’s Katie, though, who dupes the apocalypse ponies into believing that Heath has far more money than her mother. After all, how could a paraplegic afford to take them all on this trip? Greed consumes the men, who force the women along what was to be a seven-mile trek to a remote landing strip, dragging Heath in Robo-butt. It is Heath’s cunning, fortunately, that convinces the four thugs that Anna could not come on this trip because of family matters. She persuades the men that the extra sleeping bag in the tent is to pad her atrophied legs.
"I can assign only five stars, though DESTROYER ANGEL deserves many galaxies in Barr’s universe. It likely will be my number one pick for 2014, the perfect gift to give to someone for whom you truly care."
Trailing four city slickers is easy for Anna, but she’s burdened by carrying Wily, who was thrown against a tree and broke a leg. Dragging Heath in the makeshift Robo rickshaw slows them, but crossing the Fox River is their undoing. The guys have guns, and no hearts to prevent using them on women who can’t keep up. But the men are the ones who lead in circles, hopelessly lost and nowhere to ask directions. After a few days in the wild, “They all looked like zombies in a postapocalyptic horror movie.”
Anna’s only strategy is to divide and conquer. But how to take on one man at a time, especially when Reg has “four-letter words flying from his mouth like bullets from a machine gun”? Anna doesn’t have a gun, but what she does have is cunning and a consummate understanding of nature. In her world, a rock becomes a lethal weapon. Howling like a wolf scares most city folk senseless. And wild mushrooms make a nutritious snack --- if you know which ones to pick.
With literary sensibility punctuated by poetic prose, Barr insinuates a horrific thought without detailing it. When Anna has no food for Wily, she muses about the practical use of something useless. She survives four scurrilous lugs who don’t deserve the honor or title of being called men, starvation, and a gunshot wound, noting that “today is not a good day to die.”
Anna comes alarmingly close to reuniting with Nature. “In this strange, new, ancient, familiar world, Anna dredged her brain trying to find the language she had once shared with her fellow humans.” The question begs: Is Anna Pigeon the titular destroyer angel?
I’ve never imagined the horrors and psychological impact of kidnap victims. This intense novel details what happens when “an oil slick, [s]hallow and dirty” is alone with young girls and enough weaponry to prevent members of the camping party --- and readers --- from stopping what is about to happen. The difficult reading, however, justifies Anna’s uncharacteristic actions.
This needs to be read three times: once for the mystery, again for the powerful scene setting and poetic prose, but for me the philosophy Barr imparts will keep this book on my top shelf for decades. She justly uses this venue to reveal society’s objectification of women, thus “the prevalence of rape throughout most cultures” --- including America’s. If not a Pulitzer, Barr deserves an Edgar Award for her keen philosophies and making pages of fictional scenarios come to life --- a true creator. She reminds us that “hatred wasn’t the worst emotion; the worst emotion was indifference.”
This review inadequately expresses the awe I have for Barr’s craft. I can assign only five stars, though DESTROYER ANGEL deserves many galaxies in Barr’s universe. It likely will be my number one pick for 2014, the perfect gift to give to someone for whom you truly care.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on April 4, 2014