Book Reviews: The Relic, Reliquary, Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life with Crows, Brimstone, Dance of Death, Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness and Cemetery Dance.
FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is one of the best characters I’ve ever read, and certainly the best law enforcement character. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the other characters either, especially the sardonic New York cop, Vincent D’Agosta and the tenacious grad student, Margo Green, who join Pendergast in his search for the truth.
1: The Relic.
This intensely exciting thriller is the beginning of Preston’s and Child’s series featuring FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast, the tall, ghostly-pale Southern gentleman who is half MacGyver half Oxford professor.
In 1987, an expedition into the Amazon rainforest to find a lost tribe of Kothoga resulted in complete failure, numerous deaths, and the legend of a curse upon the items returned to the New York Museum of Natural History. At the same time, the Museum became plagued by rumors of the “Museum Beast” who prowls the halls and occasionally kills. With the opening of the new Superstition Exhibition which will display the Kothoga artifacts, both the rumors and the curse take the spot light as people keep disappearing while dead bodies keep appearing. It is up to FBI Agent Pendergast and graduate student Margo Green to stop the murderer, whomever or whatever it may be. Evolutionary Theory combines with Chaos Theory to create a biological thriller replete with plot twists and bone chilling suspense.
When D’Agosta dredges up a badly misshapen human skeleton from the sludge of a noxious Hudson River runoff pool, he enlists the investigative services of Margo Green, hoping she can help shed some light on the strange discovery. Margo quickly realizes that this skeleton, together with other grotesque finds around the city, are linked to the events that took place in the museum some months before. Disturbed and frightened, she seeks the aid of her friend Bill Smithback, the New York Post crime reporter who also appeared in the previous book. When Agent Pendergast shows up, the gang makes short work of discovering the truth and then embarking on a search-and-destroy mission to ferret out the culprits threatening the city once again.
The Mbwun creature from The Relic makes a reappearance in Reliquary as well, but this time it’s not an exotic Amazon import, it’s a home-grown variety. Pendergast and company find a whole race of mini-Mbwuns living deep underground in the extensive New York tunnel system, where they’ve been systematically abducting and brutally murdering members of the city’s underground homeless community.
3: The Cabinet of Curiosities.
Now, with a renewed theme to guide Pendergast, Smithback and some new characters into a new mystery, Preston and Child have made a great come-back for the series. We’re even allowed a few glimpses of the personal life of the mysterious agent Pendergast, of whom we finally learn not his name, but his initials! Some Pendergast family history is also revealed, as the murders this wonderful character is investigating this time are tie in to him on a personal level.
Follow FBI Special Agent Pendergast through the cravens of New Your City as he tries to solve not one, but two cases, one involving a serial killer looking for the ultimate satisfaction of prolonged life, the other a copycat of the first.
4: Still Life with Crows.
The basic premise is that there has been a murder, elaborately laid out and brutal beyond reason, the murder is both organized and frenzied, thoughtfully and painstakingly designed, it’s methodical yet crazed, in short, it’s extremely bizarre. What we start out with is a dead woman arranged on an elaborate tableau of corn stalks, dead crows impaled and placed in a circle around the body on valuable native American arrows and a killer who seems to appear magically out of the corn and to disappear just as easily and quickly, leaving behind only the gruesome but elaborately designed scene. Shortly thereafter Pendergast arrives (by bus no less) and inserts himself into the investigation. He claims the killer is local and serial, and of course the sheriff doesn’t believe him, shortly thereafter, more bodies begin appearing and the task at hand is to figure out who and how as quickly as possible.
When a man is found horrendously burned in a locked room reeking of sulfur with a cloven hoof print burned into the floor beside his bed, investigators are stymied. When news gets out that more bodies of prominent, wealthy citizens have been discovered under similar circumstances, the public reaches the obvious conclusion—Satan has come to earth and is killing off the most evil among us.
Special Agent Pendergast appears on the scene to assist with the investigation, teaming up with his old pal Sergeant Vincent D’Agosta to track down the truth. Together Pendergast and D’Agosta travel from Northampton, New York to the Italian countryside in their quest to solve the mystery of the increasingly lengthy list of gruesome deaths. What they discover is shocking: the murdered men had known each other for many years, and more than two decades before they had joined together in a midnight ritual that may only now be coming back to haunt them. But are these deaths truly supernatural, or is there a sinister human plot at work?
6: Dance of Death.
Stalked throughout his life by his diabolical brother Diogenes, FBI special agent Pendergast finds himself framed for several murders, a situation that forces him to flee while he works alongside a friend from the NYPD to prove his innocence.
Diogenes is bent on destroying his brother Aloysius by leaving clues as to who will die next. Not all the clues that are left by Diogenes are to be trusted. If Aloysius is wrong about how to interpret the clues then people will continue to die because he can not protect them
7: Book of the Dead.
The book opens with the arrival of a package of fine dust at the Museum of Natural History, Diogenes has returned the diamonds he stole earlier. Meanwhile, Aloysius is in prison, having been framed for a number of murders. As his friends plot to spring him, his adversary lays the groundwork for a crowning criminal achievement. A mysterious benefactor funds the restoration of an ancient Egyptian tomb at the museum. Curator Nora Kelly is assigned the monumental task of re-opening the Tomb of Senef, a museum exhibit that was mysteriously closed and bricked up in the 1930’s. Little does she know, she has become a pawn in Diogenes’ deadly pursuit of what he sees as justice for a wrong done him when he was a child.
8: The Wheel of Darkness.
Pendergast and Constance are in Tibet, off to study at a monastery because after their last adventures, they are tired of the world. While there, Constance is initiated into the ways of the dharma; Pendergast is summoned into the sanctum sanctorum. He discovers that a sacred artifact has of late been stolen, and that it must be recovered or the world may be in serious jeopardy. His search puts him on the maiden voyage of a new ocean liner, and from there, all is havoc, mayhem and murder.
9: Cemetery Dance.
Cemetery Dance begins with an attack on a pair of familiar characters (one of my favorite things about these guys, they are never afraid to do away with someone for the sake of the story), William Smithback and Nora Kelly, which leaves Smithback dead. This isn’t much of a spoiler as it happens in the first ten pages of the novel. D’Agosta and Pendergast quickly find themselves investigating the case in an effort to protect the bereaved Nora, and to find justice for their murdered friend. Their investigation will lead them to a mysterious religious community located in the forgotten and isolated wilderness of a New York city park; a community which seems to have ties to the mystic beliefs of Obeah. They also find themselves forced to confront the notion of modern day zombies as the body count mounts.
This is one of my all time favorite mystery series and should be read in order to receive maximum thrills and chills, but, yet, they are great stand alone books as well.
I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Fever Dream yet, but when I do, the review will follow.