Two Graves

The final novel in the Helen trilogy, Two Graves is also the 12th novel featuring the cerebral, debonair Southern FBI Agent Pendergast who is also the most efficiently ruthless agent who gets the perpetrator even though his methods are often eccentric and barely legal. As this is the concluding volume in a long-running series, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t read any of the books featuring Agent Pendergast, then you are missing out and I suggest that you go and get yourself a copy of The Cabinet of Curiosities which is the first book I read and got me hooked on the series by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. Seriously, you won’t regret it. If you have read most of the books, especially the previous two, Fever Dream and Cold Vengeance, then carry on and tell me what you think!

Following swiftly on from the events of Fever Dream and Cold Vengeance, Agent Pendergast finds himself caught in an intricate web of intrigue and deceit going back almost 70 years as everything he believed about his beloved wife, Helen, is shown to be a lie. He has just been reunited with Helen when she is abducted and so Pendergast once again goes in search for what is most precious to him. But this time, he is up against a diabolically clever foe who has been waiting and nurturing a new breed of soldiers to recapture the world and it no easy task even for someone like Pendergast, especially when he is faced with someone who may be even cleverer than him.

As a new chapter opens in Pendergast’s already twisted life, he must once again rely on his friends, Vincent D’Agosta of the NYPD, his ward Constance Green and newly resurfaced side-kick Corrie Swanson from a previous adventure, Still Life with Crows, to keep him grounded even as he prepares to face his deadliest enemy. For someone whose methods are uncannily similar to his brother Diogenes has surfaced and is committing a series of murders in full view of the security cameras. Who can it be? And what other secrets will Pendergast unearth?

I can only go on for so long without giving everything away. In this instance, I’m happy to say that there will be more books of which White Fire will be out at the end of the year. Hurray! Although Two Graves is the finale of the Helen Trilogy, it is also a new beginning for Pendergast with the discovery of the mysterious twins, Alban and Tristram. Parts of Two Graves reminded me a little too much of Huxley’s Brave New World but I strongly suspect there were similar real life scenarios wherever enterprising Nazis managed to escape to.

And I so want you all to go and find out for yourselves. I can’t reiterate enough how much I enjoy Preston & Child’s novels featuring Agent Pendergast. They’re polished, thrilling and packed full of fascinating historical and cultural information. A thousand times better than a lot of thrillers out there.

Cold Vengeance

Here it is. I never did murder Helen. She’s still alive.

Recall my obsession with the FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast who is a cross between a modern version of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and an undertaker and for whom nothing is impossible. He’s back in the second volume of the Helen trilogy which began with Fever Dream and continues with Cold Vengeance. This is the 11th title in the Agent Pendergast series which I’ve been avidly following for the last 10 years. Apart from them being nail biting thrillers, they’re erudite and retain an old world charm reminiscent of the Victorian sensation novels mixed with the darkness and fog of the Victorian underbelly with their whiff of murder and crime all operating with 21st century technology and an inexhaustible supply of money. The Pendergasts are an antebellum New Orleans family with enough skeletons in their closet to make Flavia de Luce proud.

If you haven’t read the series, I would recommend you start with A Cabinet of Curiosities which will introduce you to all the relevant characters and set you onto a wonderful journey in Pendergast’s world. Otherwise, at least read Fever Dream as Cold Vengeance is a direct continuation. There are some spoilers below which are inevitable when discussing a long-standing series but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

So as we found out in Fever Dream, Pendergast’s beloved, deceased wife Helen had a lot of secrets of her own. And in Cold Vengeance, we find out that her brother, Dr. Judson Esterhazy, who is on a hunting trip in Scotland with Pendergast has a lot he wants to keep hidden and will do anything to keep it that way. Including getting rid of his brother-in-law. As the two spar and circle each other, Pendergast begins to realise that the secret is bigger than he had imagined and with the appearance of the sinister Covenant, he opens up a can of worms with a trail leading back to post-war Brazil, a notorious hiding place for former Nazis. What does this have to do with Helen? And can she really be alive?

Pendergast must work against the clock if he is to uncover the mystery of his wife’s apparent death before Esterhazy can get to him. And this time, his adversary is as intelligent, cold and as ruthless as he is. When Pendergast’s ward Constance Green, who is recovering from her brush with Pendergast’s diabolical brother Diogenes, is kidnapped, the tension is ratcheted up a notch. For Pendergast will not stop now that he has a purpose, an obsession.

Pendergast is a cold, cerebral person who keeps his emotions tightly under control. Until he acquired Vincent D’Acosta, his unexpected friend in the NYPD and unofficial partner in several cases, and Constance, his ward, he had no weaknesses. But those two, together with Helen will prove to be his Achilles heel and his enemies know exactly how to get to him.

As usual, Preston & Child have done a superb job. Cold Vengeance is the novel that bridges this trilogy and is thus very fast-paced. There is a lot more action than usual which left little room for the usual plethora of fascinating information one usually gleans from Preston & Child’s research but I didn’t mind that at all. I cannot wait to read Two Graves, the conclusion to the Helen trilogy. I cannot wait.

Oh how I have missed you, Agent Pendergast. In his latest adventure, Fever Dream by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Aloysius Pendergast, that dapper, genius of a federal agent with 2 PhDs and a vast fortune, reminiscent of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, must delve into his painful past to capture a ruthless killer. 12 years ago on a hunting trip, Helen Esterhazy Pendergast was savagely killed by a lion in Zambia and her husband has mourned her loss and joined the FBI. Believing it to have been a tragic accident, Pendergast stumbles upon something which shows it may have been orchestrated. Together with his friend Lieutenant Vincent d’Agosta of the NYPD, they go on a wild goose chase into Pendergast’s past to find out what exactly happened and who Helen really was. What was she up to before she died? And did Pendergast really know his wife of 2 years, one of the few people in his complicated and tragic life who he implicitly trusted?

As with Preston & Child’s previous novels in the series, I strongly recommend you start reading the earlier novels, either Relic, the first in the series, or the one I started with, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Although most are standalone books (except for some of the later novels which form the Diogenes Trilogy), they follow a loose timeline and I feel it’s better to get to know the characters which will make the reading experience more comfortable. If you’ve read most of the novels, I’m sure I don’t have to urge you to pick this one up as it should already be in your hands. As you can probably tell, I’m a HUGE fan of Agent Pendergast. The books are thrilling, fast-paced, packed with nuggets of historical detail and boasts some truly terrifying baddies. In the previous novel Cemetary Dance, I learnt a lot about voodoo.

In Fever Dream, it’s all about John James Audubon, the celebrated painter of birds (and author of the most expensive book in history). Pendergast, whose wealthy family owns a rare edition of an Audubon folio, discovers that before her death, Helen had been secretly hunting for an early Audubon painting, the Black Frame, which has been missing since Audubon left the sanitorium where he had been recovering from a breakdown. Coupled with a sinister connection to a secretive pharmaceutical company, Pendergast is in turn dreading, yet cannot stop, hunting through his beloved wife’s past.

So, need I say more? Can I persuade you to give the Pendergast novels a try? Go on, you know you want to. And you’ll make me very happy if you drop me a line about whether you enjoyed it or not. I, of course, will be waiting with bated breath for the next in the series, Cold Vengeance, out later this year.

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child‘s mysteries featuring FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast is one of my favourite mystery series. Although set in modern day New York, there is an old world feel reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Caleb Carr’s Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. But there is also a bit of the X-Files about it too. I like.

Cemetery Dance is the latest offering coming soon after the events in The Wheel of Darkness in which Agent Pendergast travels to deepest Tibet with his ward Constance Greene, traumatised after her near brush with death. The Wheel of Darkness comes just after the conclusion of a story arc featuring Pendergast’s diabolical brother Diogenes (Brimstone, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead called the Diogenes trilogy and which should be read in order) but Cemetery Dance can be read as a standalone. I like reading things in orders so I would recommend you go and check out Relic, the first of Preston & Child’s novels featuring Agent Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta just so you can slowly appreciate what makes him so fascinating.

In Cemetery Dance, journalist William Smithback and his wife Nora are savagely attacked on their wedding anniversary. D’Agosta and Pendergast must find out who or what perpetrated the crime, especially since the assailant is someone who has apparently killed himself two weeks earlier. As the case becomes increasingly stranger, Pendergast must turn to his encyclopedic knowledge of the rituals of voodoo and Obeah to catch the cunning perpetrator who seems to have risen from the dead.

Like the other books in the series, I really enjoyed reading this one, but it felt slightly less thrilling after the rollercoaster ride that was the Diogenes trilogy. I did learn quite a bit of the dark arts of the Bayou, and Agent Pendergast was as stylishly brilliant as usual, but I thought it could have been fleshed out a little more. However, I have no quibbles regarding the style and prose, it’s slick, easy to read and well written. The contrast between the easy, confident style of Pendergast and the brash yet heartfelt D’Agosta, struggling within the police hierarchy and mourning the loss of his friend, was nicely balanced. I don’t know why, but you can’t help caring for these characters.

I am now eagerly awaiting their next installment, Fever Dream, where Agent Pendergast will be uncovering the the mystery behind the tragic death of his wife Helen many years ago. What he had thought was an accident no longer seems so. Can. Not. Wait.

I read this for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010 and R.I.P. V Challenge.