by Nevada Barr

Vanguard Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-593-15553-7.
Reviewed by Rhonda Esakov
Posted on 10/28/2009

Fiction: Mystery; Fiction: Thriller

Many people may be drawn in just by the title of Nevada Barr's first stand alone novel, 13½—which is described as "One judge, twelve jurors and a half a chance." It's a curious hint of what is to come, but gives nothing away.

Polly Farmer, professor of literature and divorced mother of two young children, started her life in the French Quarter of New Orleans as a 15 year old run-a-way. She left home to try and save herself by escaping the trailer park life and a drunken mother's string of men and sexual abuses.

In alternating chapters, another young person, a boy, is suffering the abuses of a corrupt juvenile detention center after having been committed there upon his conviction of the horrific murders of his mother, father and little sister—even the poor kitty! Dubbed "Butcher Boy" by the media, only one older brother barely survives the attack on the rest of the family.

In New Orleans, these two shattered lives will collide as the reader is slowly drawn in by the children.s' pasts, the vivid scenery of post Hurricane Katrina, a mysterious Lady-in-Red fortune teller and a fairy tale romance.

In a book that will keep you guessing to the end, Barr has departed from her previous award winning "Anna Pigeon: Park Ranger" series of books. When asked about the obstacles presented when switching from an acclaimed series with numerous followers to a psychological stand-alone thriller, Barr replies,

"...There are always obstacles in writing any novel but, more, I think when one is breaking out of a long-running series to do a stand-alone. At least there was for me. One, of course, was the concern my readers would be disappointed when they picked 13½ up and found it wasn't an Anna Pigeon..."

This book will not disappoint you; instead, it becomes a wake-up call about the abuses of young children and the systems they sometimes are forced to endure. With her intense descriptions of place and pulse tingling suspense, I would rather lose a night's sleep than not finish turning the pages.

Nevada Barr is an award winning novelist and New York Times bestselling author. She has a growing number of Anna Pigeon mysteries to her credit, a well received memoir, and numerous other books, short stories and articles. She currently resides in New Orleans with her husband, four magical cats and two adorable dogs. To find out more about Nevada, her writing and her art, visit her website.

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