Fresh Meat: Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr sends Anna Pigeon into the wild forests of Minnesota as she tracks a group of outlaws who have kidnapped her friends and family (available April 1, 2014).

Destroyer Anger by Nevada Barr begins serenely. Anna is on a short camping trip with her disabled friend Heath, Heath’s daughter Elizabeth, Leah, the engineer who came up with the design for a special wheelchair, and Leah’s daughter Katie and a dog, Wiley. Anna, who can never spend a lot of time with people, disappears from the camp for some quiet time.

The thing was, when she was alone in wild country—or as wild as country got in these United States—Anna didn’t miss anyone, not her friends, not her dog or cat, not her sister, Molly, not her husband . . Now and then, she needed to breathe air that wasn’t someone else’s exhalation.

While she is enjoying her solitude, men: a pedophile, a gangbanger, a general thug, and a stone cold killer—the dude—who have been tracking the party of women, arrive at the camp. When Anna returns, Heath warns her off with some shouts. Anna has no weapons, no food, nothing. She rescues Wiley, who has been hurled into a tree by one of the men and suffered a broken leg, and begins planning the rescue of her companions.

Since Heath and her daughter are not the targets, the dude threatens to shoot them. But a quick lie from Katie, that they too are wealthy, inspire such greed in the men that they are brought on the forced march north, to the plane that will take the men and hostages out of the backwoods. Leah reworks the wheelchair so that Heath can be dragged through the forest and not slow the group down.

Anna collects everything she thinks is useful from the deserted camp and follows. She knows she will be able to track them.

Losing their trail, or keeping up with the thugs, was not a concern. Regardless of no food and a gimpy dog, the day she could not follow a pack of city boys through the woods would be the day she’d find an ice floe upon which to sit and wait for a polar bear with her name on it.

As Anna follows the party through the forest, she begins taking out the men, one by one. This is a harrowing journey, not just for the women, but also for the thugs who are ill-prepared for hiking through forest. They struggle through thick trees and underbrush, cross cold, fast moving rivers, and travel over a burned area that reminds Anna of Hell, finally reaching a small landing strip and plane. And of course more challenges.

I love the descriptions of the wild:

Here coarse, half-dead vegetation clawed up from the earth. Wiry arms and bent fingers scratched down from above. The lantern ignited a never-ending spiderweb of twigs, needles, and branches spinning down to a floor of rubble from past lives and new bizarre life- forms.

But the real strength of this book for me is the characters. Heath, sustained by the love of her daughter and is determined to survive for Elizabeth. Elizabeth herself, who has numerous chances at escape, one of which results in a severe beating, but who always returns to her mother. Leah, so focused on the world of struts and gears she has no emotion left for her daughter Katie, but who finds a reservoir of love and strength. And Katie, who evolves from a whiny spoiled child into a strong woman. These women, confident in Anna, do whatever they can to help her, first by scaring these city boys with tales of wolves and windigo. They try to arm her by tricking a knife from one of the thugs and tuck food behind trees so that she will have something to eat. And they carry Heath for miles over the rugged terrain.

But the heart of this mystery is Anna. She feels a strong kinship with the wild and is confidant she is safe here.

Part of her believed wolves, mountain lions, bears—all the creatures of the wilds—would give her a bye. Too much Disney as a girl, she suspected, the creatures of the forest nestling in Snow White’s skirts.

A strong woman, she does whatever she must to survive and to rescue those she loves. She sheds the veneer of civilization and becomes a wild thing herself.

Without the distraction of people, chatter, food, or other trappings of civilization, her senses became attuned to the north woods.

In the space of a day, she becomes a predator.

Then her head was back, mouth open. Howling poured from her throat as primeval as that of the first wolf. A second howl joined hers, Wily. Then, from a distance, the answering howls of a pack.

When she’d done, her face was wet. Whether it was from sweat or tears, she didn’t know.

In this strange, new, ancient, familiar world there seemed to be no difference between the two.

Anna is a force to be reckoned with. Even badly injured, she does not give up, fighting on to the nail-biting conclusion. I am already eagerly looking forward to the next entry in this series.

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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her most recent historical mystery featuring Will Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran turned weaver is Death of a Dyer. She lives in New York.

Read all posts by Eleanor Kuhns for Criminal Element.

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