Book Review: Burn by Nevada Barr

Warning: This book deals with the sexual enslavement of children. While Barr does not indulge in graphic, prolonged descriptions, there are scenes near the end that leave little to the imagination. If the subject matter disturbs you, proceed with caution.

Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, August 2010
ISBN 9780312614560
Hardcover (ARC)

In a city she was not familiar with—at least not in any but a surface, tourist sense—it would be too easy to stumble into organized crime networks and get hurt or killed. When people thought of organized crime, it was the Mafia or the tongs or, in recent years, the banks, careless of whom they destroyed in their grasping for money. The big guys were scary, but the networks most regular people ran afoul of were the small-time franchises, pimps who “owned” prostitutes and prostitutes who “owned” street corners and drug dealers who “owned” territories. The criminal equivalent of mom-and-pop stores. Every city, and a lot of small towns, were riddled with them.

Burn, Nevada Barr’s sixteenth Anna Pigeon mystery, is something of a departure from previous installments. On leave of absence from the National Park Service, Anna is taking some much-needed R&R with a friend and fellow ranger in New Orleans, where she spends her days visiting popular tourist spots and her nights pondering her future and encroaching middle age. Intrigue didn’t get the message about Anna’s vacation, however. A strange encounter with a young man who turns out to be leasing an apartment from Anna’s friend, followed by the discovery of a dead pigeon wrapped in a rag marked with strange symbols, soon has Anna browsing neighborhood voodoo shops and visiting a Bourbon Street strip joint.

In Seattle, Clare Sullivan returns home from a midnight run to the neighborhood pharmacy to find her two daughters and pet dog missing. Shortly after the police arrive to investigate, Clare’s house explodes, killing a police officer and, to Clare’s horror and disbelief, her husband and daughters. The police immediately finger Clare as the prime suspect, but before they can make an arrest she goes into hiding, disguising her appearance and hopping a freight train out of town.

When Anna’s and Clare’s stories intersect, the real mystery begins to take shape. Did Clare’s girls really die in that explosion; if not, then where were they, and who took them? Just who is Jordan? What goes on in the “fancy house” Candy, a developmentally-disabled dancer at the strip club Anna visits, remembers from her childhood—a childhood that Anna is appalled to learn was only a couple of years ago?

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