The five-week New York Times bestseller, now in paperback.
Running from a proposal of marriage from Sheriff Paul Davidson, Anna Pigeon takes a post as a temporary supervisory ranger on remote Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park, a small grouping of tiny islands in a natural harbor seventy miles off Key West. This island paradise has secrets it would keep; not just in the present, but in shadows from its gritty past, when it served as a prison for the Lincoln conspirators during and after the Civil War.
Here, on this last lick of the United States, in a giant crumbling fortress, Anna has little company except for the occasional sunburned tourist or unruly shrimper. When her sister, Molly, sends her a packet of letters from a great-great-aunt who lived at the fort with her husband, a career soldier, Anna's fantasy life is filled with visions of this long-ago time.
When a mysterious boat explosion-and the discovery of unidentifiable body parts-keeps her anchored to the present, Anna finds crimes of past and present closing in on her. A tangled web that was woven before she arrived begins to threaten her sanity and her life. Cut off from the mainland by miles of water, poor phone service, and sketchy radio contact, and aided by one law-enforcement ranger, Anna must find answers or weather a storm to rival the hurricanes for which the islands are famous.
When it comes to a vibrant sense of place, Barr has few equals, as deliciously demonstrated in her 11th Anna Pigeon novel (after 2002's Hunting Season), set in little-known Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. Anna takes up her new post on Garden Key, home to Fort Jefferson, a notorious Union prison during the Civil War, after fleeing a marriage proposal from just-divorced Sheriff Paul Davidson. As she goes about her duties, Anna quickly becomes ensnared in one life-threatening situation after another. Anna's fans expect no less; all her postings somehow turn dangerous. Indeed, the contrast between the natural beauty of the landscapes and the human evils within them is a recurring theme. But this one has an added twist: a mystery concerning alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd interweaves with current crimes. In a coincidence best left unscrutinized, Anna's great-great-great-aunt was the wife of the fort's commanding officer, and her letters, relating a story of intrigue and murder, have surfaced. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and only Barr's skill keeps this familiar device fresh. The pitch-perfect 19th-century phrasing in the letters makes it easy to forgive the occasional over-the-top prose in the modern scenes. But this is a quibble. Those who already admire the doughty National Park ranger will rejoice in this double-layered story with its remarkable setting, passionately rendered; new readers have a treat in store.