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by Nevada Barr
G. P.Putnam's Sons, February 2003
400 pages
ISBN: 0399149759

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Anna Pigeon is temporarily stationed at the Dry Tortugas National Park as interim supervisory ranger. Her predecessor Lanny Wilcox had begun to see and hear things after his girlfriend left him. On Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson which was never used as a fort because the ground began sinking and could not bear the weight of the massive walls, but was a prison for Confederate soldiers during the war. After the war in addition to unreleased Confederates, the two convicted conspirators in the Lincoln assassination who were not executed, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Samuel Arnold, were send there.

Anna has a personal decision she must make and jumped at the chance to be away for a couple of months while thinking things over. While she was there, her sister Molly sends her a packet of letters she found written by their great-great-grandmother Peggy¹s sister Raffia to Peggy. Raffia was married to a captain in the Union army who happened to be the commandant at Fort Jefferson in 1865. Their younger sister Tilly had been sent to Dry Tortugas to join them.

There are, then, two parallel stories. As Anna finds strange things happening in her command, so Raffia reports some unusual events as well. In the modern story the other full time Ranger goes missing one night as he is on water patrol. Searching for him, Anna and others find a sunken ³go-fast² boat which blows up while they are searching. And Anna begins to have hallucinations also, thinking she sees Raffia walking across the parade ground. Raffia and Tilly meanwhile try to befriend a Confederate soldier who has been badly punished by Raffia¹s husband. In the process Tilly meets Dr. Mudd who convinces her of his innocence and claims to have proof. In both cases people are in peril.

The great strengths of this book are the descriptions of the setting. The fort, both past and present, comes alive as we walk through the dark tunnels, climb into the casemates, prowl the apartments of missing employees, visit prisoners in their cells. The heat and humidity are stifling and press down upon us wherever we go, but the water is a restorative in the present. Trying to imagine the soldiers working in the wool uniforms in that heat is unsettling. The fort is a looming, gray, and menacing presence at both times and evil acts are being perpetrated within its walls.

As always I enjoy the characters. Anna Pigeon is a fully realized character (whether you like her or not as a person). She is savvy, she is skillful and good at what she does. she is stubborn, and she is almost congenitally unable to ask anyone for help. The other characters are also well drawn, especially Raffia and Tilly. Raffia has made a bad marriage, whether she is willing to admit it or not, and Tilly is a typical teenager, heart on her sleeve, idealistic and naive.

Both stories are complex and intriguing. They are told in alternate chapters, one chapter giving the present in the third person limited point of view, the next chapter a letter in the first person, of course. Conveniently most chapters stop with either Anna or Raffia/Tilly in some sort of jeopardy so we worry about them as we get re-involved in the other story.

And that was the main problem I had with the book. Each story was told so skillfully that I got totally involved in what was happening and then to be jerked out of that story and taken a hundred years away to another story generally destroyed the flow of each. It was hard to suspend my disbelief all over again.

But even when she stumbles a bit, I like Nevada Barr¹s books and I enjoyed this one.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, April 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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