Revisiting Nevada Barr

by Catherine Petruccione

28 September 2009

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Barr recently invited me to come on down to New Orleans, where she and her husband Don graciously made Ron and I feel at home in that beautiful and historic city. It was thrilling to finally meet - in person - the woman behind the writing and to find that she truly is the warm, dynamic, down-to-earth person we all have come to know through her Anna Pigeon character.

From being greeted by their friendly family of dogs and cats, to seeing Nevada's impressive art gracing the walls of their comfortable home, it was truly a privilege to get to know Nevada in her own surroundings. With her new psychological thriller 13-1/2 set for release on September 29 and her appearance in Ken Burn's upcoming National Park Series which will begin airing on PBS September 27 (just to name a couple of projects she has been working on), Nevada is one busy lady!

Nevada's Anna Pigeon mysteries all have settings in various U.S. National Parks and spring from the author's experience; she worked as a ranger in a number of national parks across the country including Isle Royale, Guadalupe Mountains, Mesa Verde and the Natchez Trace. She will appear in episodes 4, 5, 6 of National Parks: America's Best Idea.

In a true break from her Anna Pigeon series, Nevada Barr's Psychological thriller 13-1/2 (Vanguard: Perseus ISBN 978-1-59315-553-7) is her first "stand alone" novel since Bittersweet (St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984). With settings from Minnesota to the Big Easy, where complex characters' lives and fates intersect, tension builds with each turn of the page as hidden evil unfolds. It is a riveting story that will grab your attention from beginning to end, so grab a copy as soon as you can. The book clearly demonstrates that Barr's writing talent is unlimited.

And don't worry Anna Pigeon fans - she isn't abandoning us! Nevada is putting her finishing touches on the latest book in the series, with the heartening promise of more to come.

BOOKTHINK: You have a new book - 13-1/2 - being released this month, which is your first stand-alone novel since Bittersweet in 1984, is that correct?

BARR: Yes. I had that little non-fiction book Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat, but it wasn't a fiction novel.

BOOKTHINK: What was your inspiration for 13-1/2?

BARR: It wasn't one inspiration; it was a long time festering concept. When I was living in Minneapolis years and years ago, there was a terrible murder by an apparently decent and wonderful young man who killed his family. That was the first horror I'd heard of, and it just sort of sat with me for a long time. I've heard of many horrors since, but not the fascination of someone who was not a serial killer, but a killer that suddenly does one horrific mass murder. And I wondered what the repercussions are down the line, to the family, the people around him, to the person himself. That sort of fascinated me. Then I moved down here, and after Hurricane Katrina, I felt an echoing sense of destruction that made me want to focus in on that, so I finally wrote the book after all these years.

BOOKTHINK: As a visitor here for the first time, even though the people I've met are so friendly, helpful and hopeful, and there is still somewhat of a "Big Easy" party atmosphere alive and well in the French Quarter, I can sense a sort of lingering psychological aftermath from all the destruction of Katrina.

BARR: Yes, it's different. Even now if you strike up a conversation with a stranger, they'll say "So…did you get any water?" And it's been four years! When I came back right after Katrina, and the book was sort of perking along, I saw a lot of depressed people. Now, I have seen depressed people before, but a whole city both depressed and determined - it was a wonderful time to write dark fiction. For me, all dark fiction has to have hope. There has to be a reason to read it. If it just gets darker and darker and then everybody dies a sordid death, I have no interest. The characters have to be given the chance to rise above the darkness. There has to be some way to rise above it. If you don't rise above it, it's history; if you do rise above it, it's fiction!