Saturday, 21 May 2016 01:05

barr boarisland
My visits to the national parks are woefully lacking. I’ve loved the vistas of Grand Canyon National Park, the beauty of Muir Woods, and the chilling history of Alcatraz Island.

And, being a Floridian, I’ve naturally visited the remote Dry Tortugas National Park down in Key West, Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine, the Everglades, and Big Cypress Swamp.

This year the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. Forty-four years after the establishment of Yellowstone, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service on August 25, 1916.

The system includes 411 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

Oh, the places we want to visit.

But if you can’t visit as many as you want, armchair visit with Nevada Barr’s novels about National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon.

Of course, even Anna, whose work takes her across the country, hasn’t visited all 59 national parks. Barr, pictured below, only has 19 novels about Anna Pigeon, so there are many more to come.

Boar Island, her newest novel, just out this week, is set in Maine’s Acadia National Park, showing the beauty of the area as well as the hard-scrabble life of its lobstermen and -women.

I think that through her novels, readers may have experienced a deeper appreciation of our beautiful parks. I know I have. And she shows not just the parks everyone seems to know about, but some of which we may not have heard.

Destroyer Angel brought me to the Fox River of the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.

nevada barr
The Rope
 gave us a look at Anna at the beginning of her career and why she decided to become a park ranger and what lead to her complicated persona. In The Rope, Anna is 35 when she arrives by bus from New York City to spend the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.

And I didn’t know that the New Orleans Jazz National Heritage Park was part of the parks service until Anna was stationed there in Burn. This 16th novel in her series showed how the urban jungle can be more unforgiving than Mother Nature’s jungles.

Borderline was set against the breathtaking beauty of Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. In this novel, Barr delivered a suspense-filled plot that explores the hot-button issue of Mexican immigration and the post-9/11 closing of the Texas/Mexican border in the area.

And Flashback showed how unusual a place is the Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. On this grouping of tiny islands in a natural harbor about 70 miles off Key West, is the historic Fort Jefferson. 

While this crumbling fortress is now an exotic tourist site, Fort Jefferson was a prison during the Civil War and housed the Lincoln assassination conspirators, including Dr. Mudd.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 02:05

bookstack open copy

When I am in Chicago next year, I plan to put this new museum on my growing list of things to do. That is, if I can tear myself away from the stores, the restaurants, and the theaters.

The American Writers Museum, the first in the United States to focus exclusively on American writers "past and present," will open in March 2017 in downtown Chicago.

The museum, which will be located at 180 North Michigan Avenue, is working with more than 50 authors' homes and museums around the country to build its exhibitions.

Museum organizers estimate up to 120,000 visitors will walk through its doors each year.

The museum will feature re-creations of writers' homes and fictional locales, such as Tara, Cannery Row, and the House of Seven Gables.

Interactive exhibits about writers' lives and methodologies, such as including "travels" with Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, also will be included.

The museum also plans space for film screenings, talks, readings, and presentations. I could also see writers' conferences being held here.

Ongoing exhibitions will cover a range of subjects. The museum has identified some rotating exhibits it may include. Among these are:
Nobel Laureates
Censorship: Banned Books
Villains in American Literature
Great Characters in American Literature
The Lost Generation
The Short Story
Best Sellers
First Novels That Rocked the World
American Writers as Cultural Ambassadors
Regional Writing
Writers on Writers
American Plays and Playwrights
American Literary Critics
Storytelling: Narrative Art in a Variety of Genres
Children’s Literature
From Page to Screen (Turning Books Into Films)
Ethnic Literature
Literature and the Visual Arts

America is blessed with a multitude of excellent authors, both living and deceased, so there should be no dearth of subjects the museum can focus on.

I also hope that many of Chicago’s excellent mystery writers will be featured in the museum, adding to the balance of authors. And I love that this will be a new venue for authors to hold discussions, panels, and other events.

The American Writers Museum has a cool website and will be updating information as it nears completion. For more information, visit the museum at

Saturday, 14 May 2016 11:05

manhattannight 2016
Blame it on Jaws.

At least that is the pervading idea, that Jaws ushered in the blockbuster summer movie when it was released in 1975.

And I know several mystery writers who use Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name as a guide during panels and workshops on serial killers and violence.

The reasoning is that great white shark was the ultimate serial killer, coming into a small community and bringing havoc.

As the time of summer movies bears down on us, here are four films that might appeal to mystery fans. Keep in mind, I have not seen any of these yet and am basing my opinion only on what I have read and the trailers I’ve seen.

MANHATTAN NIGHT (May 20): Although it hasn’t gotten a lot of press, I have high hopes for this film starring Adrien Brody as a tabloid writer who gets involved with a murder investigation and a mysterious widow. I place my enthusiasm on the source material—Manhattan Night is based on the novel Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison. Each of Harrison’s novels has been an exercise in gripping storytelling, revolving around the various New York boroughs. His 2008 novel The Finder was my top pick for that year and is still one of my favorites. Manhattan Night also co-stars Yvonne Strahovski, Campbell Scott, and Jennifer Beals.

THE NICE GUYS (May 20): Are you as tired as I am of the endless loop of trailers of this film starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling? Yes, this story about two detectives looking into the case of a missing woman looks amusing. But a trailer of The Nice Guys seems to air on TV every 15 minutes. Gosling and Crowe switch from adversaries to partners when the case becomes more than either expected. It’s set during the 1970s in Los Angeles, so expect a lot of bad hair and awkward outfits. Matt Bomer co-stars as an assassin, so expect some nice eye candy.

niceguys goslingcrowe
(June 3): The slaying of Kitty Genovese on a Queens sidewalk while her neighbors supposedly watched and did nothing has become the stuff of legend. This tragedy has been pointed out as a prime example of apathy and the don’t-get-involved mentality. And 50 years later this horrific murder is still being debated. The Witness is a documentary in which Genovese’s brother, William, attempts to understand what happened in the early morning hours of March 13, 1964. The crime documentary has received several positive reviews and is likely to be in limited release across the country.

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR (July 1): Based on a John le Carre novel and starring Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris, Our Kind of Traitor will make you think twice about being too friendly to strangers you meet on vacation. That charming man could be a Russian money launderer and you may find yourself doing more than buying a round of drinks.

Yes, there are other thrillers due out this summer, including another Jason Bourne film with the original title Jason Bourne.

But aside from these four films, I am really hoping that the all-female Ghostbusters (due July 15), starring the brilliant Melissa McCarthy, and Absolutely Fabulous (due July 22) don’t disappoint.

Photo: Ryan Goslin and Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys. Photo/Warner Bros.