There comes a time in the life of every detective series when the spark, the liveliness seems to fade as the years roll by and new stories hit the shelves. The reader still eagerly awaits each new tale of their favorite character, but something is missing. Unfortunately, I sadly must announce this fate has come to Special Agent Pendergast.
Perhaps I am being unfair, for Cold Vengeance is not a bad read. Quick-paced and enjoyable, it starts a serious bang, and Special Agent Pendergast, he of the pale features and intense intellect, is as feisty and intelligent as ever. Cold Vengeance is a direct sequel to the prior novel, Fever Dream, wherein Pendergast learns his wife was in fact murdered and not the victim of a hunting accident. Pendergast speeds from location to location trying to learn what really happened with the help of his usual sidekicks and matches wits with his brother-in-law, who apparently was involved with the murder. Plenty of diabolical events occur, leading to a twist ending, setting you up for a third book in this trilogy within the overall series.
So what’s the problem? Well, everything.
The Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life With Crows, and Brimstone, the first 3 solely Pendergast novels by Preston and Child, are simply wonderful. They burst with plot twists and swirl with smoky mysteries. Pendergast truly shined, revealing a depth of character that aligned him with Sherlock Holmes but allowed Pendergast to become his own man. All three of these books are huge – none is less than 590 pages – and the care Preston and Child shower on them is evident throughout
Compared to those early greats, the latest books feel hurried and cheap, as if a deadline loomed over the authors. The magic just isn’t there. We are still getting enjoyable Pendergast action, but not the same depth of story. The books are now shorter and more Patterson-like. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with James Patterson, such style does not suit Preston and Child.
If you haven’t read the series then my objections may not make a lot of sense. And I do not wish to pan Cold Vengeance; if you’ve read the other Pendergast novels then you should read this one too. It is not a terrible book, and I will read future entries in the series. But Cold Vengeance is not what has gone before, and I believe no title in a detective series can stand alone – it must be judged in the light of what has come before. If that is so, then I fear Pendergast may never emerge from the shadows of his previous cases.
By James White
Code 451 Rating: 6 Take it or Leave it