This latest contribution by the dynamic duo of Preston & Child is, sadly, of poorer quality content-wise than some of their other Pendergast novels. It is nonetheless another entertaining page-turner which derives most of its zing from a combination of quick-moving and deft writing, and by providing both dramatic surprises and long-awaited conclusions to many of the mysteries that have been plaguing readers of this series for years. Most particularly, what really happened to Aloysius Pendergast’s wife Helen, and who really is his “ward” Constance Greene?
The novel, as is typical of many of the Preston/Child books, is told in pieces. The first part focuses on Pendergast’s collapse into a deep drug-infused and suicidal depression after he is suddenly reunited with—and just as suddenly loses—his long-lost Helen. This is told in parallel with the bloody rampage of a cold-blooded homicidal maniac through the hotels of New York City, to which the now-cadaverous Pendergast appears oblivious until he learns that not only are the clues left by the murderer intended for him, but that one of the clues is the murderer’s own DNA which matches that of Pendergast himself! As Pendergast solves the mystery of who the murderer is, a huge surprise is dumped on the reader (I will withhold details so as not to spoil this, arguably the best part of the novel.)
Yet, no sooner are we floored by this stunning turn of events than the story gets unaccountably side-tracked into a sort of horror/love story involving Pendergast’s ward Constance, who is biding her time in a posh psychiatric institute for the criminally insane, while her would-be therapist discovers that he is hopelessly in love with her and heads into a rather ridiculous adventure to prove it and nearly loses his life in the bargain. This part is so silly and the climax so absolutely implausible that it nearly ruined the book for me. But wait! There is another subplot, involving one of Pendergast’s adoring young fans who nearly gets killed stealing some Nazi documents for him, and then must flee underground to stay out of the bad guys’ crosshairs. Corrie, who hopes to follow in Pendergast’s footsteps as an FBI agent someday, has nowhere to go but to her long-estranged deadbeat father, who has gotten himself hopelessly ensnared in someone else’s criminal scam and it falls to Corrie to nearly die in the process of solving it and saving her not-so-deadbeat father. Hmmmm…
But back to Pendergast, who is now heading off to Brazil, where a Nazi cult is conducting insidious genetic experiments in the mouth of a (dead?) volcano and where our fully-recovered FBI agent single-handedly takes on hundreds of custom-designed Nietzschean Ubermensch with no consciences and many many nasty weapons. If you’re the kind that can totally suspend disbelief and go with the flow, this last part is for you – and let’s face it, we wouldn’t be reading this kind of book if we weren’t! There’s lots of blood-and-gore, lots of shoot -‘em-up action, and an ending which—surprise!—paves the way for our next Preston/Lincoln novel. There may not be much substantive protein in this novel, but it’s calorie-rich and satisfying enough for an evening’s indulgence.