(Jump down to read a review of Still Life with Crows)
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer NOV 7, 2004)
No one seems very sorry to hear that Jeremy Grove, an art critic with a vicious tongue, has been murdered...but they are all shaken by it. This is because of the way he is found, burned from the inside out, a borrowed cross melted into his skin, a hoof print burned into the floor of the attic room where he spent those last fatal moments, and the smell of sulfer hovering in the air.
FBI Special Agent Pendergast is reunited at the scene with Vincent D’Agosta, now "Sergeant." Soon another murder with a similar modus operandi will bring in another old face from the past, Laura Hayward...and ask a question: Is the devil really coming back, Faust like, and claiming these people’s souls, or is someone using this as a clever cover-up for a much bigger plan?
Brilliantly paced, Brimstone is one of those books that you have a hard time putting down. One of the suspects we concentrate on, Bullard, definitely has some shifty plans in the works, involving a weapons deal with a foreign power, adding an extra dimension of action to the subplot. As always, there’s enough of the uncanny in these stories to make you wonder, really, if perhaps this will be the book where, indeed, there is no logical explanation for what is happening.
Ever since the Cabinet of Curiosities, Preston and Childs have been focusing a bit more on Pendergast, bringing out a back story about his family...a family full of madmen and evil genius. In Still Life With Crows, we get an idea that something, or someone, was found in the house that Pendergast ends up inheriting, and in this book we meet her: Constance, a young woman that Pendergast’s uncle kept youthful through an elixir that he invented. This becomes important as the book goes on...we learn more about Pendergast, a little more about his family, and are introduced to the idea of a brother who is a creature of such evil that he gives even Pendergast nightmares, all things that seem to be leading up to the next book.
It is also fun to see what has happened to past characters. We find that Laura Haywood has become a Captain, that D’Agosta quit the force to attempt a writing career. I always love it when you can find threads of history through a series, things that you don’t need to know to understand what's going on, but things that as you read through the book gives it a feeling of cohesiveness. Preston/Child's characters are so interesting that you actually care and want to know what’s going on in their lives. Especially the ever mysterious Agent Pendergast. Throughout the series, they’ve given information on this man in tiny pieces...finding out his first name is a big surprise. Agent Pendergast gets my award as one of the top most fascinating characters in mystery fiction, or fiction, period -- always well prepared, always a gentleman and there is very little that takes him by surprise.
As you might guess, the ending is a cliffhanger and had me gnashing my teeth. But don’t worry; they’re working on having Dance of Death out in June 2005. I am waiting and begging to get an ARC as soon as it is available.
- Amazon readers rating: from 202 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Brimstone at author website(back to top)
"Still Life With Crows"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUL 8, 2003)
"Hazen found himself marveling at the geometrical precision with which the circle had been formed. At one end of the clearing stood a miniature forest of sharpened sticks, two to three feet high, pushed into the earth, their cruel-looking ends pointed upward. At the precise middle of the clearing stood a circle of dead crows spitted on stakes. Only they weren't stakes, but Indian arrows, each topped by a flaked point. There were at least a couple dozen of the birds, maybe more, their vacant eyes staring, yellow beaks pointing inward.
And in the center of this circle of crows lay the corpse of a woman."
Medicine Creek, Kansas is the last place in the world where one would expect a serial killer to show up. In fact, the local police chief refuses to believe that it is one, just as he refuses to believe that the killer is local. Medicine Creek is a tiny town, swiftly dying as farmers slowly sell out to the big corn raising conglomerate Buswell Agricon. The only thing special that Medicine Creek has is Krause's Kaverns, a tourist attraction that has dried up along with the town, and the curse of the Forty Fives.
FBI Special Agent Pendergast enters this scene, and it isn't long before he is convinced that the killer is both serial and local. As the murders pile up, he realizes that this killer doesn't have a pattern, or any definable motivation -- the killer is of a type that Pendergast has never seen before. Pendergast, who has already begun making enemies of Sheriff Hazen, makes things worse when he hires Corrie to be his driver and assistant. A purple haired teen whose boredom has lead her to do things like steal an occasional car, she can't wait to get out of Medicine Creek. Despite her practiced "I don't give a ..." attitude, Pendergast soon draws her in, fascinating her with his weird but astute methods of investigation. They make an odd pair...the Goth Chick meets Hannibal Lecter with a conscious, but it works incredibly well. You begin to genuinely care about Corrie, and Pendergast finds himself in a situation that he seems to really enjoy, because he seems to truly respect her. I think both the reader and Pendergast enjoy watching her bloom, going from a rebel without a point to a young woman who sees the positive possibilities of her future.
The Hannibal Lecter description may displease some long time fans of Agent Pendergast. I mean no insult...I like a lot of characters, but something about this man has really caught my interest. He embodies all the "good" things that you see in Lecter, the things that draw you in...the incredible charm, the extremely sharp intellect, the powers of reasoning and deduction and the understanding of the darker side of man are all things you can say that both men have...not to mention refined (and picky) palates. Pendergast goes beyond this...he has both a conscious and a quest, and is willing to spend his life tracking down these intelligent maniacs, and in doing this, saving lives. His cool, distant demeanor might come off as inspired by another famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, save that, at least in this book, he's not acerbic. He's too smooth, too elegant to use his wits to cut. At least not too much. In short, he's the kind of person you would like to admire...refined, chivalrous even, and dedicated. You get to spend much more time with him in this book than in Cabinet of Curiosities, another aspect of this book that I rather enjoyed.
The story itself is nearly impossible to put down. The murders are quite frightening, the plotting ingenious...and when I discovered the reasoning behind it all, I was very creeped out. There are many amazing scenes, including one at a turkey plant that will change the way you see the food that arrives at your table. This duo really knows how to tell a story, adding in many elements to take it from a simple detective tale to a full blown experience.
- Amazon readers rating: from 85 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Still Life With Crows at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
"The Cabinet of Curiosities"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JUN 16, 2002)
Underneath was a piece of paper, torn from the page of a book. It had been folded twice. Parts of it were stained and faded, but it read unmistakably: "I am Mary Greene age 19 years No. 16 Watter Street."..."So?" She asked, but she had already read the results in his face.
"The note, Dr Kelley, was written in human blood. No doubt the very blood of the young woman herself."
The "cabinets of curiosities" scattered around 19th century New York were the precursors to the New York Museum of Natural History. Anyone who could scrape a few pennies together could go inside and see strange and bizarre items gathered from all around the world --- some real, and some not. Whale eyes in formaldehyde, shaven and stuffed orangutans with labels that called them ancient Pygmy hunters, bones and artifacts were displayed for all to see.
In modern day New York, a construction crew digging away at the foundations of one of these old cabinets cuts into the cellar underneath, and discover the carefully hidden remains of 36 people. Anthony Fairhaven, the owner of the site, wishes to build his glass tower of apartments before bad publicity and archeologists looking for a new dig site can stop him. He had the bodies quickly taken away and buried, but not before Dr. Nora Kelly and FBI Special Agent Pendegrast take a cursory look. It is Nora who discovers the note, sewn into the bodice of a discarded dress. Nora has her reservations about continuing the investigation, despite the personal connection she feels to Mary Greene through her painstakingly created note. She has recently been hired by the museum, and she is afraid of losing her job, especially since now budget cuts and politics have made it harder for her to continue her research.
Agent Pendegrast, determined to discover the name of the murderer for his own reasons, is not willing to take no for an answer. The two work together, and soon discover a hidden letter that reveals the identity of the murderer --- a letter Nora describes to her boyfriend, William Smithback. A careerist reporter, Smithback sees no harm in writing the story up for the New York Times, especially since it seems Nora's employers are trying to bury all information. This does not help her as he hopes, and she refuses to have anything further to do with him. Worse, the article seems to have created a copy cat killer, and a woman is found murdered the same way as the bodies discovered under the cabinet. Her body will not be the last as the killer struggles to keep the secrets of his identity and his agenda safe.
Preston and Child do a very good job of writing a novel that evokes a dark, almost Victorian feel of horror. Despite its modern day setting, it has a gas lit feel that makes it much more chilling. The Surgeon, as the new killer is called, owes a great deal to Jack the Ripper and other penny-dreadful villains. His modus operandi and his desire to make an elixir to prolong his life are both ghastly and imaginative. Nora Kelley is a decent heroine, although one does not have much sympathy for her boyfriend Smithback. Agent Pendegrast is by far the strongest character, and most interesting. Incredibly intelligent, he possesses an old time gentility and sense of honor that recalls a less acerbic Sherlock Holmes. The climax of the story works well, even though it shouldn't. The action are exciting and the horror aspects made me wish I'd finished reading before midnight.
- Amazon readers rating: from 164 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
FBI special agent Agent Pendegrast:
- Relic (1995) +
- Reliquary (1997) +
- The Cabinet of Curiosities (June 2002) *
- Still Life with Crows (July 2003)
- Brimstone (August 2004)
- Dance of Death (August 2005)
- The Book of the Dead (June 2006)
- The Wheel of Darkness (August 2007)
- Cemetery Dance (May 2009)
* features Archaeologist Nora Kelly
+ features Reporter Will Smithback
Fiction by Lincoln Child:
- Utopia (December 2002)
- Death Match (May 2004)
- Deep Storm (January 2007)
- Terminal Freeze (February 2009)
Fiction by Douglas Preston:
- The Codex (December 2003)
- Tyrannosaur Canyon (August 2005)
- Blasphemy (January 2008)
- The Monster of Florence (June 2008)
Nonfiction by Douglas Preston:
- Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History (1986)
- Jennie (1994)
- Talking to the Ground: One Family's Journey on Horseback Across the Sacred Land of the Navajo (1995)
- The Royal Road: El Caminon Real from Mexico City to Sante Fe (with Christine Preston and Jose Antonio Esquibel) (1998)
- Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest (1999)
Movies from books:
- The Relic (1997)
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- The official Douglas Preston and Lee Child Web site
- OverMyDeadBody.com interview with Preston and Child
- Trashotron review of Mount Dragon
- BookReporter.com review of The Ice Limit
- Writers Write review of The Ice Limit
- Curled Up with a Good Book review of The Cabinet of Curiosities
- MostlyFiction.com review of Cemetary Dance
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About the Author:
Preston and Child live 2,000 miles apart and write their books together via telephone, fax, and the Internet.
Douglas Preston was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1956, and grew up in the suburb of Wellesley. He attended Pomona College in Claremont, California, where he studied mathematics, biology, physics, anthropology, chemistry, geology, and astronomy before settling down to English literature. After graduating, Preston began his career at the American Museum of Natural History in New York as an editor, writer, and eventually manager of publications. (Preston also taught writing at Princeton University and was managing editor of Curator.) His eight-year stint at the Museum resulted in the nonfiction book, Dinosaurs in the Attic, edited by a rising young star at St. Martin's Press, Lincoln Child. During this period, Preston gave Child a midnight tour of the museum, and in the darkened Hall of Late Dinosaurs, under a looming T. Rex, Child turned to Preston and said: "This would make the perfect setting for a thriller!" That thriller would, of course, be Relic.
In 1986, Preston piled everything he owned into the back of a Subaru and moved from New York City to Santa Fe to write full time. Preston continues a magazine writing career by contributing regularly to The New Yorker magazine. He has also written for National Geographic, Natural History, Smithsonian, Harper's, and Travel & Leisure, among others. Preston is a Research Associate at the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, a member of PEN New Mexico, and a board member of the School of American Research in Santa Fe. Preston and his wife, Christine, have three children, Selene, Aletheia, and Isaac. They live on a hilltop outside Santa Fe.
Lincoln Child was born in Westport, Connecticut in 1957, but spent some of his childhood in Abersystwyth, Wales. In 1979, after graduating from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he majored in English, he secured a position as editorial assistant at St. Martin's Press in New York City. While at St. Martin's he worked his way up the hierarchy to become a full editor in 1984. He also assembled several collections of ghost and horror stories --- Dark Company (1984), Dark Banquet (1985) --- and later founded the company's mass-market horror division and edited three more collections (Tales of the Dark 1-3).
In 1987, Lincoln left trade publishing to work at MetLife. In a rather sudden transition, he went from editing manuscripts, speaking at sales conferences, and wining/dining agents to doing highly technical programming and systems analysis. Though the switch might seem bizarre, Lincoln was a propeller-head from a very early age, and his extensive programming experience dates back to high school, when he worked with DEC minis and the now-prehistoric IBM 1620, so antique it actually had an electric typewriter mounted into its front panel. Away from the world of publishing, Lincoln's own nascent interests in writing returned. While at MetLife, Relic was published, and within a few years Lincoln left the company to write full time. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.