The breathless positive reviewers of this book puzzle me. Their experience was distinctly not my experience. I've read 3 of Barr's books now and this was definitely *not* the pick of the litter. At Barr's best, she's a 4. This one was somewhere between a 2 and 3...but since I can't award half stars, I'll give it a 2. This was definitely the worst of the three books by Barr I've read thus far.
Here's the plot in a nutshell.
A group of rangers including our heroine, Anna Pigeon, are brought together from various national parks and agencies to fight a fire in Lassen National Park in Northern California. When the fire unexpectedly flares, a group of 9 are caught off guard and with no path of retreat from the rapidly advancing flames. Their only hope for survival is to crawl inside their fire-proof emergency tents, burrow into the ground, and hope that the fire will literally flash over the top of them so quickly that they won't be baked to death...merely scorched.
When the inferno blasts over, it feels like hours but is just minutes. They are singed, some quite seriously, but alive. However, although 9 people crawled into tents, only 8 people emerge: one literally has a knife in his back. And, the fire has felled trees across the only road in to the area, nor will the weather allow rescue helicopters to reach them. The 8 survivors are trapped indefinitely without food as it begins to snow and temperatures begin to drop -- and one of them is a killer.
Sounds enticing enough. But the ensuing days as the 8 struggle to survive are gray, cold, eventless, and populated with miserable people struggling to maintain their sanity and civility.
Basically, that describes how I felt trying to perservere through the remainder of the book. Yeah, I made it. But it wasn't a pleasant experience.
Barr decides to make the victim in this book a man who is universally scrorned by all who know him. And in so doing, we don't care that he's dead, we don't care why he died, and we don't care who killed him. There is just no incentive for the reader here to really care about finding the killer. In fact, I just couldn't bring myself to care about *any* of the characters or details in this story, doubly sad since I live in that part of the country and many of the towns and landmarks Barr describes are my stomping grounds that would normally have been very interesting to me. Oh, and Barr -- for reasons known only to herself -- felt obliged to once again introduce a homosexual lover subplot into the story. Why she feels compelled to insert this into every story is beyond me. I think it must be some type of politically correct statement. Whatever. But I'm beginning to find it tiresome. It feels contrived and forced because it is...contrived and forced.
Anna Pigeon is a likeable enough protagonist who behaves and talks like a real person. I have no gripe with Barr's writing abilities or dialog. But the people in this story get confusing. It is hard to keep the 8 folks in this "lifeboat" type story straight. It is harder still to care about them or care about finding a resolution.
It just felt like 4 long days in the snow surrounded by blackened timbers and a bunch of people you don't like.