"And it's not just a recent phenomenon," Constance said. "Dickens wrote an account of spontaneous combustion into his novel Bleak House. He was roundly criticized by reviewers for it, so he later defended himself by recounting a real case of SHC in the preface to the 1853 edition."Synopsis: FBI Agent extraordinaire Aloysius Pendergast is reunited with his NYPD sidekick, D'Agosta, on a case of what looks at first glance, like spontaneous human combustion, but later turns out to be pro-pubbed fanfic.
D'Agosta, who had been about to take another bite of steak, put down his fork.
Agent Pendergast first met up with D'Agosta in the absolutely stunning Relic, which was later made into a movie about a tenth as good. They joined forces and stalked through New York City to deal with crazy bio-engineered toothy things, serial killers and Pendergast's batshit family.
In this, the fifth installment of Pendergast, there are bad men who meet untimely ends in locked rooms in their own homes, with such accoutrements as burned hoofprints, melted crosses and the odor of sulphur everywhere. Did these men sell their souls to the devil? Of course they did! Has the devil come to collect his due? That's what Agent Pendergast has come to find out.
Basically, if you're reading the series, you're reading this book. To be sure, it's a Preston/Child doorstop of unimaginable pageantry, history, detail and New Yorkiness. Pendergast is a phenomenal creation, D'Agosta is a great foil for his genius and another character from the series welcomely re-appears here. The New Yorkiness is toothsome and lip-smackingly delicious; you can very literally get yourself a map and trace D'Agosta's panicked flight through the park (pursued by assassins, naturally) to Pendergast's weirdly wonderful Riverside Avenue decaying manse. The Constance Greene plotline proceeds apace, and the who and why are wonderfully tricky.
There are problems.
About 350 pages into the book (it clocks in at a hair under 500), the wheels come off. They come off and go rolling merrily down the cobblestoned streets of Florence, where Pendergast and D'Agosta have pursued the killer. There are great big whocking gaps of logic being made with the plot, and while I will not spoil the book for you, I will simply say that if you, oh, I don't know, recognize the dude the very first time he pops onto screen, you will say to yourself, "Oho self, this is fanfic! I recognize this! I know how this is going to end and it is going to end in tears."
You will be right.
The authors lift a character wholesale from Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White" and drop him into this plot, where he does exactly what he did in Woman in White. So, you know, lack of suspense there. I'm not disapproving of what they did, I'm just pointing out that if you go ahead and yoink a character, you might want to have him do something different in your novel than the exact same thing he's famous for.
Additionally, there is a frankly insulting subplot about a preacher in a park that basically takes up 75 pages with giving The Chick something to do.
But I think the biggest disappointment is that the first 350 pages are really great. Even recognizing the villain hopping around in his official Hey, I'm a Villain windbreaker doesn't diminish the beauty of the language, the pacing, the nuance, the detail. It's all there.
And it's not just Pendergast who's fascinating. It's his whole world, which opens up a little bit more with every book in the series. His strangely secluded home in the heart of NYC, his wan and mysterious ward, Constance, and his brilliant but deranged brother Diogenes, who we find out about here for the first time.
I ate it up with a spoon.
But then Pendergast and D'Agosta went to Italy to pursue the blah blah blah fishcakes. I really tried to keep caring, especially as the fourth book in the series, Still Life With Crows was phenomenal, start to finish. It was this stunning little package of rural noir, which not enough people are writing nowadays.
Boy how I wanted those wheels to stay on. Pendergast is an amazing literary creation, sort of a fussy little Sherlock/Mulder who finds himself stuck in the wrong century, and up until this book I liked D'Agosta too. But here, he just runs around tugging his forelock in Pendergast's direction and realizing all the terrible turns his life has taken. Then he goes back to the forelock shtick.
And there are a few lyrical moments in the Italy section, but overall, the wheels they did come off and go rolling merrily away. It's where the big leaps in deductive logic start. It's where the subplot attempts to cut back and forth with the main action chapters. It's where a sort of handwavey occurs and BOOM! the how is revealed.
Bah fishcakes, I say.
Of course, you realize, I'm totally going to read #6, right?