Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Pendergast Series, by Doug Preston and Lincoln Child

This Christmas I decided to spend away from home.  After a bear of a year, the stress of Christmas did not appeal, and I decided that I would rather spend a week sitting on a beach, doing things at my own pace, and indulging in my passion for reading.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I was gone for 7 days, and took with me a bunch of books and managed to read most of Preston and Child’s series of Special Agent Pendergast books.  It was classic me – spending all day reading and managing to devour 8 books in 7 days.  I freely admit I have an addictive personality, and it usually presents itself with book series.

Once again, my interest was caught by the extremely engaging nature of the characters in the book.  The main character which runs through each book is FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, an extremely intelligent and wealthy individual who has no time for rules and proper procedures.  In most of the books, he’s assisted in his investigations by Vincent d’Agosta, an NYPD detective who is loyal to a fault.  Having read Relic and Reliquary (the first two books in the series), I had assumed the d’Agosta would be a staple in each books, but that’s not necessarily true.  While he’s a character in almost all of the books, there are a couple which the authors call ‘standalone’ books in which he doesn’t make an appearance.

In terms of a series, these books all have a similar flow, but a few of them don’t fit the general pattern of the others.  What do I mean by that?  Well, most of the books follow the same general pattern – a series of crimes (serial killings) being committed by what could conceivably be a supernatural force, Pendegrast (sometimes added by d’Agosta) steps in to investigate, and it’s revealed in the end that there is a perfectly logical, scientific explanation for everything.  It does a realist’s heart good to get to those endings…. But a handful of the books incorporate non-scientific probabilities.  Because I was enjoying the reading and the vacation so much, I went with it, but in retrospect, I think I would have rather the authors leave out the hocus pocus, and stick with the scientific explanations.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the strongest books are the ones with solid police and scientific investigations at their core.

I briefly mentioned the ‘standalone’ books in the series.  There are several that can be read independent of knowing the rest of the books (though there are usually some call back or passing mention of previous characters), and there are several that are mini-series within the larger series of books.  Relic and Reliquary are a pair, and tell the story of the museum beast; Cabinet of Curiosities is a stand alone, but introduces several characters that you need to be familiar with to read the rest of the series; Still Life with Crows is a standalone, without d’Agosta, but is probably one of my favorites; Brimstone could be considered a standalone, but it’s d√©nouement leads directly into the next two books; Dance of Death and Book of the Dead, are another mini-series in which Pendergast has to stop his genius, but evil, brother Diogenes from carrying out the perfect crime (though there are two books, they arc as one story); next is the standalone The Wheel of Darkness, which I really didn’t like - this book completely departs from the realm of the believable, and following from the cohesiveness of the Diogenes arc, it’s a rather abrupt change from the authors; next is Cemetery Dance, which was the first Preston and Childs book I read, and which gets back to the tried and true pattern mentioned above (this too is a standalone, but there are characters present from previous books); finally, we come to Feaver Dream, the first of another mini-series, this time following Pendergrast’s attempts to find his wife’s murderers.  I was almost at the end before figuring out that I wasn’t going to get a satisfying resolution for this book, which sucked, since it was the very end of my vacation.  But still, I’m avidly waiting for a chance to read the next book in the run.

All in all, I really did enjoy these books.  I’m going to give myself a few months (maybe a year), and re-read them to see what I feel about them.  Admittedly, I managed to read them in unique circumstances, but I have a feeling that the majority of them will stand up well.  There are other Preston and Child books (not of the Pendergast series) that I’m sure I’ll be exploring in the near future, so I think it’s safe to say that these two are going on my list of authors that I keep a weather-eye out for.  In the end, I strongly recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fast paced, mystery fiction.  

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