Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr is the 18th novel in the Anna Pigeon park ranger series.
4 out of 10 stars. The ending and the dog really saved what would have been a long and drawn out book.
The book starts in the middle of a camping trip with 5 women: Anna Pigeon, Heath Jarrod (a paraplegic who saved Anna’s life in Hard Truth), Heath’s 15-year old daughter Elizabeth (adopted after she was rescued in Hard Truth), Leah (an engineer of wheelchairs and cutting-edge handicapped infrastructure), and Leah’s insufferable 13-year old daughter Katie. Let’s not leave out Wiley, the toughest little old terrier there ever was. The location is near the Fox River in northern Minnesota so while no National Park is mentioned, there is a lot of description of the forest that comprises the setting of this story.
On a solo canoe jaunt along the river away from camp, Anna hears the screams of Heath and realizes something bad has happened. Armed with only a T-shirt, jeans, and moccasins she starts stalking the kidnappers waiting for the opportune moment to save her friends.
At the campsite, we have the other two women and teens chilling by the fire when four thugs walk into their camp and hold them at gunpoint. The thugs we have are: “The Dude” (otherwise known as Charles who has about 25% of the book told from his sick viewpoint). He is the ringleader and has a personal grudge against Leah. Next we have Jimmy the brainless twit, Sean the fat pedophile in cowboy boots, and Reg the gangster city boy terrified of the woods. All of these men are so stupid and make so many mistakes, it makes the story very unbelievable at times, particularly when there were so many easier avenues to kidnap Leah who is really the only one they want. The idea that these blundering fools with no woods savvy would agree to this plan of hiking miles into the woods with no supplies to kidnap five women when they only want the one is ridiculous.
Anyhoo, “The Dude” wants to kill Heath and her daughter right off the bat and take the other two to the pick up location but the ladies do two smart things. First, Katie tells the guys that Heath’s aunt is a millionaire, even richer than Leah’s husband. Two, Heath tells them Anna didn’t make the trip because of family issues and since there are 4 tents and no sign of her, they believe this story. What follows is a long an arduous journey of getting these hostages and a modified wheelchair through the woods and across a river 7 miles over the course of 3 days. During that time Elizabeth manages to get Sean’s knife and leave it behind for Anna and there are a lot of descriptions of beatings, carrying the wheelchair, injuries, etc that take up a lot of time plus an attempt to poison Sean with mushrooms Leah has found and knows about from her time in the woods as a child.
Meanwhile, Anna has snatched the dog Wiley from where he was left for dead the first night and fashioned him a splint for his broken leg and a fluorescent green raincoat out of a sleeping bag. Almost 50% of the book is Anna talking to Wiley and honestly those are the best parts of the novel. Anna and Wiley follow these morons through the woods and eventually pick off Jimmy and Sean. One of the funniest parts comes when Anna overhears how much Reg is afraid of wolves. Her and Wiley from then on howl every night until the real wolves miles away start howling too. When the opportunity comes to kill Reg as he is taking a bathroom break, he turns too early and shoots Anna before she runs off into the safety of the dark woods. However, he is so freaked out that he thinks Jimmy has come back from the dead to kill him and has a “super dog” that wants him dead as well.
Eventually the group makes it to an abandoned building near an air strip and a pilot with a small plane who will take Leah and Katie off to ransom in the morning, leaving Elizabeth and Heath for dead. “The dude” is tired of Heath so he shoots her in the leg and leaves her for dead outside the building, keeping the other 3 hostages in the building with Reg. Anna and Wiley eventually find Heath, still alive and light her clothes on fire to try to blow up the airplane’s gas tank. Anna manages to blow up not only the gas tank but the pilot, leaving us with Reg and “The Dude”.
Elizabeth manages to escape the building and team up with her mother and Anna, scaring Reg to the point that he runs for it. “The Dude” is over it and shoots Reg with a rifle, leaving him with two hostages against three injured women. At this point Heath is not only paraplegic but in shock with bullet wounds wearing Anna’s pants because she burned hers. Elizabeth has been beat to sh*t and can barely see out of one eye. Wiley has a broken leg and a superman cape. Anna has been shot in the shoulder, can’t move her left arm, has no eyebrows or eyelashes because they have been singed off, and no pants because she gave hers to Heath. But Elizabeth has gotten Reg’s gun off his body and Anna, torn moccasins and clad in turquoise underwear, is able to dispatch “The Dude” with the help of Katie and Leah who are still tied up.
Now the five women and tired terrier can finally rest inside and use the satellite phone to call for help. The plane that arrives 5 minutes later is not their savior, but the getaway plane for the thugs and hostages, flown by “Mr. Big”, the man behind it all. It turns out Leah’s husband Gerald had a business partner Michael who was also his lover and “The Dude”’s identical twin Michael. Michael couldn’t bear the thought of Gerald going straight because he wanted to have a child so he killed himself the night of Gerald and Leah’s wedding. Leah knew nothing of this. So now we know kind of why “The Dude” had a personal grudge, though very misplaced.
Mr. Big turns out to be Bernard, the other business partner who Gerald bought out right before he married Leah and got rich off her ideas. He wanted Leah’s formula for a new material that would revolutionize not only handicapped tools but boat manufacturing. Already worried about how all the dead bodies look, even though it was self defense, the women are loath to shoot Bernard and he says he has priests and judges in his pockets to give him an alibi. He is so blatantly arrogant that he even asks Leah for a refill of his coffee before he flies off in his plane, which she gives him. You guessed it, she doses the coffee with the poisonous mushrooms which will kill him in a week and there is no cure.
Plot holes: Why does The Dude blame Leah who was as much of a victim of Gerald as Michael was? Probably because he is a flaming misogynist but it seemed unlikely that he would go through this whole ordeal that was poorly planned with idiotic thugs he has never met when there were other ways for revenge. Why did they think hiking 4 miles into the woods to kidnap 5 women was a good idea? Why not snatch Katie from school or take Leah from the house when she was alone? This was the most ridiculous idea especially when it becomes obvious how under-prepared they are.
Annoying points: Too much talk of the wheelchair and ridiculously nauseating and repetitive detail of injuries, especially Heath. As Anna is following them over 3-4 days sometimes there are only 5 pages between morning and night. What happened to the day?
Good parts: Wiley saved this book. Wiley and the ending made the book worth reading I suppose if you can get passed the boring beginning. I promised myself if they killed the dog I would stop reading, but alas he lived and I was glad for it. Anna was actually more likeable in this book than many previous novels not only because she cared for Wiley but also faced down all of these goons with nothing but a T shirt, a rock and a stolen cheap knife but it was believable enough that it felt realistic.
4 out of 10 stars. Loved the dog. Loved the mushrooms. Still, a dumb plot.