Burn Review
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While on administrative leave following a traumatic mission, Park Ranger Anna Pigeon visits her old friend, Geneva, a blind singer who works at the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park. Anna isn’t in town long before she crosses paths with a creepy gutter punk who turns out to be one of Geneva’s tenants. After what appears to be an attempt to place a curse on her, Anna begins an investigation that leads to the darkest corners of New Orleans, where voodoo magic comes to power.

Clare Sinclair is a wanted fugitive who’s believed to have murdered her husband and two children in a fire—but she doesn’t believe that her children are dead. Instead, she believes that they were taken and sold as sex slaves in a private club in New Orleans. In order to hide from the police and find her girls, she takes on the persona of a man she calls Jordan. She uses her skills as an actress and sinks deeper into her role—to the point that she might not be able to come back as Clare.

As Anna tries to help Clare/Jordan, she discovers that men can be atrocious animals—and none are worse than those who prey on children. Though her new husband cautions her to stay out of it, Anna can’t turn her back on a mother’s plea for help, no matter how mentally disturbed the mother may appear to be.

Author Nevada Barr writes Burn with profound emotion and uncanny depth. Though this is not the usual Anna Pigeon mystery—which usually takes place in a National Park—post-Katrina Louisiana is every bit as wild and scary as whatever might be lurking in the wilderness. The heart of man can hold unspeakable evil, and Anna faces it with all its fury on the back streets of New Orleans.

Anna is tough to the point of almost being manly—and, in many ways, she has the emotional makeup of a man, which sometimes makes her hard to like. But you have to admire her desire to protect those who cannot do it themselves.

Clare/Jordan is especially creepy—yet fascinating at the same time. It takes skill to split one person into two totally different characters, but Ms. Barr does it with a masterful hand. When I look back over memorable characters, Clare/Jordan is right up near the top of the list.

With its almost supernatural feel, Burn is most definitely my favorite Anna Pigeon mystery to date. Nevada Barr brings New Orleans to life like no other author I’ve read, blending the sinful and pure into a mishmash of horrifying and remarkable images. Burn is not a novel you’ll soon forget.

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