Remember those tacky days when horror movies stationed uniformed nurses in theater lobbies to treat anyone who fainted when the monster showed up? That was all hype, of course, but several times during Destroyer Angel I felt my heart racing so fast that I feared I needed medical assistance.
Yes, Nevada Barr’s 18th Anna Pigeon novel is that scary, but its monsters are human. While camping with two female friends and their young daughters in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Anna‚ who has been out canoeing on a nearby river, arrives back on shore just in time to overhear the other women being taken hostage by a group of heavily armed hired killers. Although an experienced park ranger, Anna has no weapons of any kind. She isn’t even wearing heavy enough clothing to weather the approaching night. Still, Anna, being the brave and resourceful soul she is, decides to track the men and their hostages through the deep woods, hoping to somehow free her friends.
Heath is a gritty paraplegic and mother of 15-year-old Elizabeth, an unusually mature young woman. The other adult is Leah, a brilliant scientist who designed the paraplegic camping equipment the trip was supposed to be testing. Leah, whose withdrawn manner suggests Asperger’s, is also the mother of beautiful 13-year-old Kate, a spoiled, self-centered brat. Kate’s behavior would normally be only an annoyance, but her very immaturity has attracted the attention of one of the group’s captors—a convicted child rapist.
As Anna tracks the group of thugs and their hostages, she begins to suspect that once they arrive at their unknown destination, the women will be killed. Watching Anna admit to herself that she might die in the attempt to save her friends is heart-wrenching. Watching her make tools and weapons of items salvaged from campfires and the forest floor is a revelation. Although the annals of crime fiction are filled with brave and resourceful women, few of them have matched the challenges Anna faces in Destroyer Angel. Yet she isn’t the only hero in this story. During that long, terrifying trek through the woods, the hostages also display uncommon bravery: the mothers, to protect their daughters; the daughters, to protect their mothers. The tension in Destroyer Angel may be almost unbearable (cue that uniformed nurse), but this tale of survival of the morally fittest is nothing short of a revelation. Barr, a superb novelist, has never delivered anything other than a good book‚ and here she’s written a magnificent one.