Mark Terry

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


November 16, 2011
For book discussion today, COLD VENGEANCE by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This is, I guess, about book #12 to feature very strange FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast. But perhaps I should get some disclaimers out of the way. Preston & Child co-write thrillers (tech thrillers, sort of) together, and also write thrillers alone (as well as nonfiction. Preston's true crime THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE is a terrific book). I've read all of their books together, I think, and most of their books that they write alone. Child's UTOPIA is one of my favorite books and Preston's TYRANNOSAUR CANYON is great fun, too.

And I've really enjoyed many of their earlier books together that did NOT feature Pendergast, books like RIPTIDE and THUNDERHEAD.

I've also interviewed Doug Preston and he was gracious enough to blurb my last novel, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS.

So I'm a little cautious about criticizing. I will say, as much as I've enjoyed most of the books that have Pendergast as the main character, I'm not a huge fan of the character. Oh, I think he's a brilliant character, a sort of modern day Sherlock Holmes with a strange pocket full of quirks and weirdness. But it's his very strangeness that makes him a difficult primary character. Doug and Linc (yeah, like we're buddies) have worked around this (intentionally or not) by usually teaming him up with someone far more normal and likable. After all, Sherlock Holmes was never a POV character - Watson describes him, and it's through Watson's humanity that Holmes becomes a living breathing character. (In my opinion, anyway).

Well, that's a bit of a problem in COLD VENGEANCE, because for the most part, Pendergast is the main character. There are other characters - including from previous books - that are in here. Typically Pendergast's "Watson" is NYC cop Vincent D'Agosta, who is in maybe 10% of this book.

The other thing is that Doug & Lync tend to write these books as trilogies. COLD VENGEANCE is the 2nd book in an apparent trilogy, with the first being FEVER DREAM (which I liked quite a bit, actually). In true STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK fashion, COLD VENGEANCE leaves so many threads hanging that it doesn't feel like a complete novel. Which can be frustrating.

So, briefly: in FEVER DREAM, Pendergast finds evidence that the death of his beloved wife, Helen (during an African hunting accident in which she was mauled to death by a lion) eleven years earlier was actually homicide. Intent on finding out who killed her, he goes all over the place, discovering some involvement with a weird avian virus related - yeah, I couldn't possibly connect these dots in a blog post - to a missing painting by Audubon.

So, then, in COLD VENGEANCE, Pendergast's brother-in-law attempts to murder him and lets slip that Helen isn't actually dead. So Pendergast goes on an uncharacteristically emotional rampage (in a cold, calculated, methodical emotional rampage sort of way) to track down his brother-in-law in order to force him to reveal his wife's location, all the while hinting at some Nazi cabal called the Covenant.

Got that?

Okay, good. So, although I enjoyed the book fairly well, there were some frustrating things in it. Their writing, however, isn't one of them. Their writing sort of requires me to use the dictionary function on my Kindle a bit more often than usual, but it's nicely efficient yet elegant writing.

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