I realized I had a Nevada Barr book on my shelf that I hadn’t yet read, Blind Descent, and so I picked it up and in less than a day, I have established a mental list of all the reasons I will never be a spelunker. Reasons number 5 through 82 relate directly to this book and the idea that someone might try to off me while I’m in a hole in the ground. Worse yet is the idea that they might fail the first time and continue to try to kill me while I’m climbing my way back to the surface.
And that is the plot of Blind Descent in a nutshell, except the bad guys try to kill one of National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon’s friends the first time around, and then it gets a bit kamikaze after the initial failure. At the beginning of the book, Anna is called from her home park to Carlsbad Caverns to help with the rescue of a caver, who also happens to be one of her friends who works with her at Mesa Verde. This establishes the reason for a trip to a new park (and I tend to like how Barr does this, as it makes it a bit more plausible than always having her ranger permanently relocate), and then Anna is told her friend is asking for her.
Now, I’d like to point out that even though you might feel this is a bit weak plot-wise, THIS IS A DAMN GOOD FRIEND. Because if Sonika climbed into a hole and then wanted to see me in the center of the earth, I’d send a few books and some extra batteries for her flashlight with a note saying I loved her along with the actual rescuers. And then I’d sit at the mouth of the cave and eat s’mores.
But Anna is a much better friend than I am, or she succumbs to peer pressure, and she wanders right into this cave with the rescue crew. And this isn’t the main, well-explored cave. No, this is Lechuguilla Cave, and that very name should strike fear into your heart. Fortunately for the reader, parts of this book do take place above ground, which offers a break from the oppressive descriptions of dark, scary places. Much like in Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, in which the writing generated the feelings of quiet and winter light, Blind Descent feels stifling and dark, and this is a tribute to the writing.
While this isn’t Barr’s best book, neither is it her weakest, and it endeared me to Anna Pigeon once more- so much so, I picked up another of Barr’s books to reread this weekend. After all, nothing says vacation like rereading a murder mystery set in the great outdoors.