Page-turner of the week
A good ol' boy, the apparent victim of a sex game gone bad, lies dead inside a house at a national park in Natchez Trace, Miss. Doyce Barnette was corpulent and dim-witted; in his 50s, he still lived with his mother. By most accounts Doyce was a loser, except that he belonged to one of the town's most prominent families. His murder plunges park ranger Anna Pigeon into local, family and racial politics.
Fans of Barr's 10-book mystery series, all set in national parks, will enjoy her platinum-plated engineering. The non-stop action never collides with the novel's leisurely pace. Newcomers will be drawn in quickly as Barr mines the southern landscape and concocts characters who complicate, and occasionally compromise, Anna's hunt for the killer: All three candidates in the town's upcoming sheriff's election have much at stake in the case. Even the victim's mother, a wizened racist who decorates her home in prewar style—pre-Civil War, that is—threatens to get in the way.
Barr has a plainspoken gift for sustaining suspense without using SAT words. In the end she brings a seemingly random series of elements together in ways that are both rewarding and wholly real. (Putnam, $24.95)
Bottom Line: Belly up to this Barr