One of the recent trends of the last couple of years I have noticed is the high number of books using the concept of offshoot Mormon groups doing bad things. While some authors take the idea in different directions, most seem to use the same basic template. An abusive man physically strong in stature with a deep voice leads the group, the abused women (often sisters from the same family) are all fearful and married to the man and the children are abused. Everything is done in the name of religion, which allows the author to lecture the reader about the evils of religion gone amok. This is exactly what Nevada Barr does in her latest offering, “Hard Truth.”
Newly married Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Beyond the usual park problems, the staff has been severely stressed by the recent disappearance of three young girls while in the park from a nearby breakaway Mormon sect. The girls, with their youth leader, were left in the park while other members of the group hiked out. The young girls disappeared and despite constant searches and investigations into everyone’s background, especially the youth leader, the three girls have not been found.
Then two of the girls stumble out of the woods at the Sprague Lake Handicamp and straight into the arms of a paraplegic and her elderly Aunt. Heath, a climber, has been confined to a wheelchair since falling and receiving severe injuries approximately nine months earlier on Longs Peak. Despite the fact that she is lucky to even be alive according to everyone else, she doesn’t think so. Mad at the world for her injury and her own body for failing to heal so that she can walk again, she has slid into a deep angry depression that even her no nonsense Aunt, Gwendolyn Littleton, can’t get her out. But when confronted by two children, clearly deeply traumatized on a physical as well as an emotional level, Heath is forced to reassess her life.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum in personality and motivation, Heath and Anna have a tenuous working relationship as they begin to investigate what happened. Heath exploits the bond she made with one child while Anna exploits her position as District Ranger to investigate a case that the sect does not want investigated in any way. A third child is still missing and both Anna and Heath wonder if she is still alive. What happened out there in the woods? And for Anna, she also wonders why the return of the children has coincided with other strange events in the park.
This isn’t the first time Nevada Barr has considered the concept of pure evil and no doubt won’t be the last. Once again she tries to define it, to show its human face, to explain it, and deal with an evil that is almost perfect in its ability. As such, much of what she has written before, Molly’s lectures and advice, etc. is dusted off and placed before readers once again. This lends a certain redundancy to the work, as much of what is in this novel seems to have had the identifying names changed and little else.
Because of that fact, some factual location errors, and the for the most part stereotypical characters, the read is average at best. While the tale itself is interesting and does hold reader attention, the noted flaws remain prevalent from start to finish. Of course, like everything else in life, your experience may vary.
By Nevada Barr
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
More next time and as always feel free to drop me a note here or at Kevin_tipple@att.net with your comments, observations, and suggestions.
Thanks for reading!
Kevin R. Tipple © 2005
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