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Brimstone – Book Review

Brimstone by Preston and Child

Written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Published by Warner Vision

Finally released in paperback is Brimstone, the latest in the FBI Special Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Pendergast has returned from his adventures in Kansas (Still Life with Crows) to find Detective D’Agosta is not only back from his failed attempt at being a writer, but has been demoted to beat cop on Long Island, far from his beloved NYC. The case that conveniently brings them together concerns the mysterious death of a notorious sinner, a death that speaks more of Faust than of normal murder. Is the devil really behind this killing and the ones that follow? Preston and Child weave a tale that attempts to tie together such elements as the world of contemporary art criticism, Englishwomen living in Italy, medieval tales of spontaneous human combustion, Renaissance violins, and more.

The writing shows that Preston and Child are definitely more skilled, and more ambitious, than they were at the earlier stages of their career. The plotting, if not always the prose itself, reminds readers of the gothic, complex mysteries of Perez-Reverte and even Eco, as opposed to the more straightforward thrillers of Peter Clement or the police mysteries of Patricia Cornwell. Preston and Child do not have the virtuosity of Perez-Reverte or Eco, but their ambition is clearly to head in that esteemed direction, and they show skill enough to offer a reader hope.

Readers who have yet to experience the singular pleasure of a Pendergast tale will still do perfectly well plunging in here. The only element that requires knowledge of previous novels is the character of Constance, originating in A Cabinet of Curiosities. Readers might have more sympathy for the plight of D’Agosta if they have reader earlier books in the series, given that in this book, some of his actions, even in full context, make him look rather more like a simple bitter adulterer who quit trying to be more than a pitiable innocent victim; in any case, D’Agosta serves his purpose as foil for Pendergast and effective police investigator.

The only thing that can really be said against Brimstone is that it is trying to be too much. While a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, perhaps an author’s should not; trying to tell too many stories at once can weaken dramatic tension and irritate, more than engage, the reader. The last half of the book is essentially two books in one, with one track leading the reader along the police procedural track with Captain Hayward versus the lunatic and his mob, and the other track being the more exotic and gothic tale of Pendergast and D’Agosta in Italy. Whichever you prefer, you should be happy; however, the dual plotlines can also serve to annoy, confuse, and merely waste the time of readers who are truly only interested in half the novel.

This can be recommended to fans of the previous Preston-Child novels, as well as to anyone who enjoys a good thriller with supernatural, but believable overtones. Fans of literary mysteries and historically-based plots, including such books as Possession, The Fencing Master, The Club Dumas, and even the benighted and startlingly mediocre Da Vinci Code will enjoy this one, as well.

As an aside, the climatic ending may come as a shock, both pleasant and miserable, to fans of the series, and bears no responsibility for any resulting tears, frustration, or gnashing of teeth.

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