by Nevada Barr, 2003

Took me too long to finish, but it was interesting. Ranger Anna Pigeon is on temporary assignment on Dry Tortugas National Park, where Fort Jefferson was built during the Civil War to house war prisoners. She intersperses Anna’s mystery – finding out why she’s seeing ghosts and why her assistant was almost killed when a “go-fast” boat he was approaching exploded – with old letters from her great-great Aunt Raffia, who lived at Fort Jefferson at the end of the Civil War at the same time it was housing famous prisoners accused of aiding in the assassination of President Lincoln.

Love her descriptions of the islands and the water. Here is part of the first paragraph of the book:

Until she ran out of oxygen, Anna was willing to believe she was taking part in a PBS special. The water was so clear sunlight shone through as if the sea were but mountain air. Cloud shadows, stealthy and faintly magical at four fathoms, moved lazily across patches of sand that showed startlingly white against the dark, ragged coral. Fishes colored so brightly it seemed it must be a trick of the eye or the tail end of an altered state flitted, nibbled, explored and slept. Without moving, Anna could see a school of silver fish, tiny anchovies, synchronized, moving like polished chain mail in a glittering curtain. Four Blue Tangs, so blue her eyes ached with the joy of them, nosed along the edge of a screamingly purple sea fan bigger than a coffee table…

And here is the last paragraph, 383 pages later:

Anna unpacked the black velvet box that housed the impressive diamond engagement ring Paul had given her and put the ring on. She needed to get used to the look and feel–and the idea–of it before she returned to Mississippi and had to make good on her promise of matrimony.

Mostly I liked it because it was set on a near-tropical island – a National Park Island, or group of islands – 70 miles from Key West. I kind of want to go – if the snorkeling is really as good as she made it sound. And, it would be neat to see Fort Jefferson – they let tourists in and around it now. There are no facilities, however, so if we go, it’s a day trip or you camp and bring all your food, water, etc. (I think).