By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, narrated by René Auberjonois – This fast-paced thriller—book 14 in the wild escapades of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast—follows the agent on the trail of the killer of his son, and, when he is knocked out of commission by an arcane poison, the action shifts to two women desperately seeking the ingredients for a possible antidote.
Pendergast is an eccentric, so wealthy he accepts an annual $1 salary from the FBI only for form’s sake. He has residences on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive, an apartment in The Dakota, and a large Louisiana plantation called Penumbra. His wit and New Orleans courtliness pervades his interactions with everyone, even when he’s aiming his Les Baer .45 at them. His avocations have made him a connoisseur of food, wine, and art, an adept at of various combat disciplines, and the practitioner of a rare form of Eastern mysticism, Chongg Ran, that provides deep insight and, in this novel, allows him to see into the past.
The story opens with an unexpected knock on the door of Pendergast’s Riverside Drive mansion, answered by his ward Constance. A man—a dead man—falls to the ground. Pendergast’s son Alban. Whoever killed Alban is sending a powerful message and appears to have left not a single clue. Is it the perfect crime? Or clever bait to lure the agent into a trap?
Meanwhile, NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta is investigating a different murder, that of a low-ranking employee at Preston and Childs’s favorite crime scene, the American Museum of Natural History. D’Agosta learns the man had been working with a visiting professor who was interested in only one particular human skeleton. D’Agosta enlists the aid of scientist Margo Green to help him figure out what was so special about this particular set of bones.
There’s skeletons in Pendergast’s family closet, too. For some time, Constance has trolled the underground archives of the Riverside Drive house, becoming well acquainted with Pendergast’s shady ancestors and the basement laboratory filled with arcane materials and dangerous chemicals. When Pendergast falls ill, she and Margo team up to concoct an antidote, but if they are to obtain all the ingredients they need, they must go outside the law to do so. And time is running out.
Preston and Child never let up the tension throughout their complex, information-packed narrative, and they have created unique and well-rounded characters. Pendergast and the novel’s action may occasionally become too “shamelessly, gloriously over the top” (Washington Post review) for some readers, including me, but he and it are always interesting.
This was the first book in the series I’ve read, and I had no difficulty following the story or the subtext of the interactions, even though much had taken place prior to the current story.
Noted American actor René Auberjonois has narrated 13 other volumes by Preston and Child, and conveys Pendergast’s Southern gentleman charm quite convincingly.
A slightly longer version of this review appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website.