Still Life with Crows (2003) – Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

 

FBI Special Agent Pendergast is back, and this time, he’s in the middle of nowhere, a tiny, small town, Medicine Creek, set amongst the cornfields of Kansas, where someone (something) has committed a terrible murder.

Leaving the body, in a strange tableaux surrounded by crows pierced by arrowheads, the crime scene is unusual, and as such attracts Pendergast’s attention, much to the chagrin of the local Sheriff, Hazen. Things become more strained between he and local law enforcement, when he takes on a local misfit, Corrie Swanson, as his assistant.

The old adage, every town has a secret, becomes shockingly clear in this book, as it becomes very evident to the FBI agent that the killer must be a local. Something the denizens of the small town refuse to believe, and seek to disprove, as the court KSU, who are looking to conduct experiments on the local corn fields.

But when incidents continue to occur, somehow tied in with the Curse of the Forty-Fives, that dates back to the Western expansion, and a mysterious Cheyenne attack, the locals are driven into a state of fear, and mistrust.

As Pendergast and Corrie explore the mystery, and try to stop anything more terrible from happening, Preston and Child keep the plot rocketing along, interweaving mystery with moments of sheer terror.

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In terms of continuity, Pendergast’s brother is mentioned in this book in regards to similarity in murders, so the set-up for something big continues. And it seems, our FBI agent has a friend, Wren, who is cataloguing the Cabinet of Curiosities from the previous novel, and he mentions to Pendergast that he feels like he is being watched, something that is confirmed in the narrative. So there is someone else still in that house, so I imagine we’ll be finding our way back there as well.

Once again the duo of Preston and Child introduce us to engaging characters, and then let us follow them down into the horrors they are experiencing. There were a number of moments in this one that completely unnerved me, and it may seem odd for a book to make somebody jump, but this one actually pulled it off a couple of times.

Corrie makes a good partner for Pendergast, and through her we get a little more of a glimpse at the man behind the investigator, a hint at his inner mind, and his family life. He is still incredibly sharp, and erudite, single-minded in his pursuit of truth, and bringing the killer to justice, no matter who it puts him at odds with. He’s definitely not afraid of making enemies, but I wonder how long that will happen until he comes up against someone who is his equal… I’m sure it must be coming.

Perhaps in the next book… Brimstone.

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