Nevada Barr holds Anna back. She’s not quite a detective yet, amateur or otherwise. Barr doesn’t let her follow clues. We know Anna will become a clue-sniffing bloodhound. We know what lies ahead. But at this juncture in her life, Anna must rely more on instinct.
I like how Barr sets herself up for this challenge. She is forced to restrain Anna, to show her first taste of getting on a killer’s trail.
Anna isn’t readily equipped with detective skills here, she’s just a big-city adult looking to change her life and wipe away some bad memories.
In the first big chunk of The Rope, Anna finds herself stuck in a hole—a “solution” hole—near a remote marina on Lake Powell. The remote marina is called Dangling Rope. It’s a real place (been there many times) but Barr adds lots of actual dangling ropes to the plot and the climax finishes with, yes, a rope and a cliff. Anna works to sort out what happened to her and here we get a glimpse of her analytical mind, but just enough to see how she breaks things down.
The energy level of The Rope is a bit different. There is more a thriller construction than a straight mystery approach; Barr even gives us alternative points of view of the action, including that of female roommate who is attracted to the mysterious new worker (Anna) fresh in from the big city. It’s fun to see Anna through others’ eyes. (I haven’t read all the Anna Pigeon stories; are there others with multiple points of view?)
As others have mentioned, The Rope is more violent than standard Nevada Barr fare (if there is such a thing as standard Nevada Barr fare) and it’s somewhat crude, too. But it’s tame by ‘dragon tattoo’ standards, for instance.
The ending was a bit over the top for my tastes. But if you’re an Anna Pigeon fan, I think you have to admire Barr’s effort to give us a glimpse of the early years and the early mindset that led to many terrific stories to come.
Since you asked, Blind Descent is my favorite of the Anna Pigeon series (at least, of the ones I’ve read).