The Rope by Nevada Barr is #17 in the Anna Pigeon series.
0 out of 10 stars. The plot is implausible, grotesque, and slooooow.
This book is a prequel to the Anna Pigeon series and revolves around Anna’s first experience with the national park service. This review will be told in chronological order, while much of the book is not. The book starts with a chapter told from the point of view of a creepy man named Regis who is the head ranger of Glenn Canyon National Park where this book takes place.
The next chapter starts with Anna in a jar-shaped hole with no memory of how she got there.
Chronologically, we start with Anna getting assigned to be a summer interpreter on the water quality and excrement collection team for Glenn Canyon National Park. Her new boss, Regis, thinks she was hired because she is a “theater type” and the Chief felt sorry for her because Anna is fleeing the death of her husband Zach 6 months prior. She shows up to this desert outpost completely unprepared and with an entirely black wardrobe. The other players here are Jenny, Anna’s boss who has worked at the park every summer for the last 9 years; Jason, a lame teenager who works some of the food vending counters; and two other goons that are seasonal park employees that I will call Beevis in Butthead because I literally don’t remember their names and can’t find them in the book because it is told so out of sequence. We also have creepy Regis, who gets some chapters told from his sociopathic POV, and Regis’s wife Bethy who lives in the housing area with Regis and their puppy.
On her first day off, Anna decides she is going to go “for a walk” but doesn’t bring water, food, a useful map, sunscreen, or a hat. She literally goes for a walk in the desert dressed in black clothes at noon, gets lost after 3 or 4 hours and then hears a girl screaming. Anna runs toward to screaming and sees three men cornering a teenage girl. When she realizes she can’t actually help the girl, Anna changes course and runs away but the men have already seen her. The men knock Anna out, kill the teenage girl, and throw both their bodies in a “solution hole”. This structure is a 100-foot deep jar-shaped hole formed by some sort of desert salt lake process. Anna wakes up in the hole with no memory, a bad concussion, and a broken shoulder. Quickly, she unearths the teenage girl’s body and a canteen with drugged water. As she is trying to remember what happened, the drugs kick in and Anna wakes up 12 hours later with “WHORE” carved into her thigh. Needless to say shes pretty freaked out but eventually escapes from the hole and rescues herself.
Meanwhile back at camp, Jenny notices Anna’s belongings are all missing from her room so she has not reported her missing, thinking Anna couldn’t hack the desert and up and left. Jenny’s pet snake has been mutilated along with Bethy’s puppy so it appears there is a budding serial killer on the loose. Next, Beevis and Butthead and the mousy teen Jason all are found dead in the river. When Anna stumbles back into camp with half a memory of what happened, Jenny helps her piece together what happened. Both of them start to suspect Regis as he is cold and creepy and has no remorse or feeling over what happened to Anna, his puppy, or the death of a teenage girl in his park.
Anna is kidnapped and put in the hole “again” only to discover her captor is none other than Bethy, Regis’s wife. She is a vapid, foul woman who uses disgusting language and torments Anna in the hole again, telling Anna it was her who carved “WHORE” into her leg and tormented her the first time as well. Apparently Beevis and Butthead convinced mousy Jason to come with them on a boat and con a visiting teenage girl to come with them. This quickly gets out of hand when they land on the other side of the lake and try to attack her, the attack that Anna hears on her walk. Jason “only watched” but is a pathetic wimp who folds like a cheap suitcase and decides to tell the first person he sees when he gets back to camp, who happens to be Bethy. Instead of telling anyone, Bethy decides she is going to go “retrieve” Anna and convinces Beevis and Butthead to throw both the girl they have killed and Anna into the hole and she will keep their secret. Of course she doesn’t and kills all three of the morons and then proceeds to torment Anna. Why you might ask? Because Bethy is conveniently a budding serial killer who likes torturing and killing animals, including her own puppy and Jenny’s snake. Bethy also thinks Anna is a whore because Regis “looks at Anna funny”.
Since Jenny and Anna were starting to suspect Regis, Bethy kidnaps Anna again to kill her and silence her forever. In the nick of time, Regis arrives and realizes how far his wife has gone this time. Bethy and Anna are in a standoff with no weapons near a cliff, and Regis gives Bethy a knife, only to knock his own wife off the cliff when she goes to kill Anna with said knife.
This is all fairly ridiculous and the reasoning for Regis’s behavior is only explained in the last two pages. Regis’s relatives were rich and left him a large trust fund but he can only cash it in if he has a stable job and successful marriage by the time he is 30. He met Bethy and realizes she was a few crayons short of a full box so he immediately married her with a plan to kill her after he hit 30. He knows Bethy is disturbed and has killed animals before, but I guess he didn’t think she would go this far? In any case, he wanted to kill her so he could still cash in his insurance policy as a widower so he deliberately gave her to knife so he could “save Anna” by killing Becky as his only choice. This psycho is fired but otherwise gets off scot-free. In the end, Anna decides she wants to continue working for the NPS but this time as a law enforcement officer. The end.
Bethy is a white, 25-year-old female with no history of abuse or mental illness and two loving parents. This is the least likely form for a serial killer to take. In addition, the animal killings and deranged language she uses are hallmarks of a disorganized killer yet we are supposed to believe she was organized enough to get a pilot’s license and fly Regis’s Cessna plane back and forth to the hole across the desert to torture Anna? I don’t think so.
We are supposed to believe Regis and Bethy, a young married couple making less than 20k a year each can afford their own personal plane that they tote around with them from park to park?
Not so much a plot hole as frustrating, the story of how Anna wound up in the hole is told through flashbacks that start mid sentence with the current time frame. So halfway through a thought you realize Anna has jumped back to the night she was attacked. This made it a very long read because I had to re-read half the book to realize what the heck was going on.
0 out of 10 stars for an unrealistic book, another female killer, and a man who gets off scot-free. I don’t believe Anna would join the NPS after her experiences in this book. At. All.