Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

Nature Noir
by Jordan Fisher Smith
by Joel Smith


For 14 years, Jordan Fisher Smith worked as a park ranger on the American River in California's Sierra Nevada. That's 14 years of dust and sun, 14 years of taking detailed statements from drunken miners and filing endless reports, 14 years of patrolling the kind of country that attracts crazies and outlaws.


The latter is especially true in the case of Smith's particular post. The American River had, some years before he arrived, been approved for a large dam that would flood the entire valley. But for years, those plans languished in legislative deadlock, putting the project on hold. That the area would be wiped out in the future meant few people cared what happened in the present. Miners dug the valley up for gold, Hollywood stuntmen smashed their cars onto the valley floor and the government put little effort into manning the ranger station.


That, of course, makes for some good stories. And as the title of Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra suggests, many of them are imbued with mysterious, private-eye atmosphere as Smith recalls the strange characters he met and the crimes he tracked down. The depressed and the thrill-hungry are jumping off bridges. A sheriff's wife is murdered, her body never found.


Smith's writing lives up to that noir feel most of the time. In one chapter, "A Natural Death," he retraces the steps of a woman who left her car to go for a run through the woods, but who was hunted down and killed by a mountain lion. He builds the suspense adroitly, reporting the evidence as he comes across it, making the reader guess what happened to her.


But, as is too often the case throughout the book, he destroys the tension of his first-person narrative with shockingly dull historical perspective. Just when the drama reaches a crescendo, he segues to a line like this: "The legislative history of cougars in California reflects the change in attitudes toward predators with the growth of an environmental ethic in the 1960s and 1970s ..." But what happened to the cougar? You start skipping ahead.


Smith is smart to interweave the history and the drama of the territory he patrolled, but it seems that all those years of filing boring reports may have caught up with him.





Publication date: 06/02/05

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • OK, Hold Your Nose
  • OK, Hold Your Nose

    Everything you need to know before Election Day
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Base of Support
  • Base of Support

    Polling local leaders and opinion-makers about presidential politics
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • The Messenger
  • The Messenger

    Local leaders weigh in on how Donald Trump's campaign has impacted racism in America
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion

Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 31

All of today's events | Staff Picks

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


trail mix


BRIEFS


green zone


marijuana


Readers also liked…

  • New Blood
  • New Blood

    Candidates are launching bids for Spokane City Council and could bring big changes to city government
    • Mar 18, 2015
  • The <i>Real</i> Rachel Dolezal
  • The Real Rachel Dolezal

    The story goes far beyond just a white woman portraying herself as black
    • Jun 17, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation