It’s the time of year that’s made for curling up by a window at home or in a library. Winter weather is always so beautiful when viewed from inside, especially if you’re in a comfy spot with a good tome to pass the time. Just add a fireplace and you’ve reached pure joy.
Let me introduce you to two of my favorite writers: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They won me over to the thriller genre. They’re two of the quirkiest fellows around, not to mention the authors of several New York Times bestsellers. I prefer a good story to eloquent writing, but Preston and Child deliver both.
Although authors like James Patterson appeal to the masses—in recent years he’s sold more books than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined—his writing leaves much to be desired. He creates a solid page-turner, but, by the end, I don’t feel I’ve reveled in the English language.
Same goes for Dan Brown. He told a fascinating story (once, Digital Fortress), but his books quickly became repetitive. Body part thrown in near the beginning. Check. Cryptic messages needing decoder rings. Check. Symbolism, which may or may not be accurate. Check.
I’m reminded of a phrase uttered by Dr. Niles Crane in the Frasier television series: “Popularity is the hallmark of mediocrity.”
In contrast to many popular writers, Preston and Child excel at crafting gripping page-turners in near-eloquent English. Extensive research into their subject matter fills their pages. They also have quite a sense of humor and an obvious dislike of bureaucrats.
With a degree in English and extensive experience in the publishing business (he worked as an editor at St. Martin’s Press), Lincoln Child is a lover of words. Douglas Preston’s background is English literature. After graduating, Preston served as an editor and manager of publications for the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The two joined forces when Child edited Preston’s non-fiction Dinosaurs in the Attic, a book about the New York museum’s history and all the relics and artifacts not on display. Preston reports that he gave Child a midnight tour of the museum. 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,” thus, giving birth to their novel, Relic.
As for their sense of humor, a section of their website includes all the bad reviews they can find. They respond to the reviews in Groucho Marx style: “Not good science? Why, before writing Relic, we did extensive scientific research on the worldwide problem of brain-eating monsters infesting museums. What more could you want?”
Their latest effort, Cold Vengeance, is an inspired thriller. It’s a good stand-alone story, but it’s better if you’ve had previous thrills with FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast, the quirkiest of law enforcement officers imaginable. There’s no need to worry about soft-hearted liberal judges or courts. The bad guys in Pendergast’s career never live long enough to make it to trial. Finally, justice.
I suspect that police officers will like Pendergast, as well as his side kick, Vincent D’Agosta, a regular guy with a knack for finding the bad guy. Unlike Pendergast, there’s no pretense or affectation about D’Agosta. He’s a good, solid cop with a justifiable dislike of the bureaucrats above him. He’s a good guy who hates bad guys.
Pendergast is brilliant, a genius, yet there’s something sadly formal about him. In an Old Southern manner (he hails from Louisiana), he keeps feelings to himself.
When these authors gave birth to Special Agent Pendergast, they created the most interesting crime-fighting character since Sherlock Holmes, and, in my opinion, they’ve outdone Holmes.
Cold Vengeance takes the reader from the moors of Scotland to New York City on a roller coaster ride of thrills as Pendergast learns early in the book that his wife, whom he thought was dead, may actually be alive and in hiding from some sinister master group. Pendergast, obsessed with his beloved Helen, has her body exhumed. DNA evidence indicates that his wife is the deceased. Yet doubt remains in Pendergast’s brilliant mind. He knows something is not right.
I’d run out and purchase this book, but, along with it, pick up one of the other Pendergast thrillers to read first.
The previous Preston and Child text involving Pendergast was Fever Dream. Likewise it’s best read after getting to know Pendergast. In Fever Dream, Pendergast discovers that his wife, killed by a lion, was actually murdered (someone intentionally loaded blanks in the gun she used for protection).
Which brings us to Cold Vengeance, wherein Pendergast learns that his wife may be alive. Nothing is as it first appears in any Preston and Child novel. And, there’s a logical explanation for everything. It’s part of their writing brilliance—everything makes sense, eventually.
Eccentric, brilliant and intriguing—Aloysius Pendergast, get to know him. He becomes irresistible. If you must read Cold Vengeance and no other, you will find that it is a thriller of a caliber much higher than most. But if you first get to know Pendergast, it will be that much more intriguing.
I’d recommend a book like Cemetery Dance as an introduction to Pendergast. Or, if you’re an avid reader, start at Relic and work your way through all of the gripping novels. In Cemetery Dance, William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife Nora Kelly, a Museum of Natural History archaeologist, are brutally attacked in their apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Eyewitnesses claim, and the security camera confirms, that the assailant was their strange neighbor who, by all reports, was dead and buried weeks earlier. While Captain Laura Hayward leads the official investigation, Pendergast and Vincent D’Agosta undertake their own private and decidedly unorthodox quest for the truth. Their journey takes them to an enclave of Manhattan they never imagined could exist: a secretive, reclusive cult of Obeah and vodou which no outsiders have ever survived.
Learn more about Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and their books at http://www.prestonchild.com.