The Short Version: Special Agent Pendergast has many enemies – and his family has even more. But when one of his most dangerous foes ends up dead on his doorstep, Pendergast must wonder who now is taking aim and why. The sins of the Pendergast family have come to haunt Aloysius and, despite the best efforts of his devoted friends, this time he might have to pay the ultimate penance…
The Review: How long does a thing remain tainted by previous associations? There are tales of precious stones and other items or icons that retain a ‘curse’ down through many owners. Is that happenstance or is it some sort of ‘memory’ in the item? And does money – blood money, or the things bought from it – carry that same psychic burden? If your money is in fact ill-gotten gains, what is your responsibility?
It’s an interesting question, one that gets asked (in one form or another) rather often nowadays, what with the general conscience of the millennial generation. And while this question is clearly on the minds of Mssrs. Preston & Child, there is a another, more broad question at hand as well: do the children truly inherit the sins of the fathers? Their answer is on the darker side, as these things go – although I suppose that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Pendergast has spent his life fighting for what is right, what is good. Yes, he’s unorthodox and sure, he’s done some bad things in the name of the greater good – but I don’t think anybody would find Aloysius Pendergast to be evil. Yet his family – from Diogenes of course back through several generations – has had its share of horrible men. Even Dr. Leng, redeemed in some ways by distance and by seeing him through the eyes of Constance, cannot be considered anything more than evil. And Pendergast must determine the measure of his family over the course of this novel: his literal family meaning both his sons and his predecessors and his metaphorical family meaning D’Agosta, Margo, Nora, Constance, Proctor, and so on.
This makes for excellent character development and moral conundrums, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a cracking plot – and, were there to be holes in this novel, that is where they would be found. The actual revenge plot seems… well, it’s not ridiculous, but it just seems staggering in its complexity and almost Bond-villain-esque panache. It doesn’t feel terribly real, is the thing, and could almost certainly be described by just about any rational human being as a staggering overreaction.
But who cares? The thing is, this rather far-fetched plot is gripping in a way that the Pendergast books haven’t really been since Diogenes was still running around. Indeed, the action stacked against Aloysius feels like something concocted by that late Moriarty-esque brother of his – and there is a question as to whether or not Pendergast’s two sons (long story, one I don’t know yet – because, admission, I read this before reading the Helen Trilogy. Which brings me to another point: try your best, friends, to read this series in order) would end up like Aloysius and Diogenes did. The villain of the piece, the person actually behind the crime, is almost superfluous in a way – because the real villain is ‘the past’. It wouldn’t do to say much more than that, because it’s fun to watch things play out, but suffice it to say that when Pendergast ends up in mortal danger in this book, you actually get the sense that he might be in actual mortal danger for once. He’s a character who has, over the course of the previous 13 books, become nearly super-human – he’s smarter, faster, stronger, etc, than just about anybody he crosses paths with. So to chip away at that mythology is a bold (and absolutely necessary) move by the authors and they pull it off with surprising efficiency here.
It must also be noted that this book is an ensemble piece far beyond what even most of the previous books have been. There’s always a second plot that somehow ties in, of course, but this one ties in quicker than usual and it brings back so very many old friends (and a few not-so-friendlies) – the most exciting of which being good old Margo Green. She and Vincent and Constance play huge roles in this novel and it’s fun to see a little shake-up of the team: how can they function when their leader is less than his best?
I won’t tell you, of course. But I will tell you this: you ought to look up the story of the Salton Sea before you read. The pictures in your head, when you visit in the novel, cannot do justice to the eerieness of the real thing. It’s the perfect spot to lure somebody like Pendergast…
Rating: 4 out of 5. Pendergast and company are caught up in one hell of a mystery here, one where the actual mystery is less to the point than the danger that it puts all of them in. Things get off to a gunshot of a start and don’t really ever slow down – and while there is a fair amount here that will be confusing to anybody who hasn’t read the previous novels, long-time fans will be rewarded by the wrapping up of several old threads. There is a sense of clearing the decks, in some ways; Pendergast isn’t starting over, there’s no rebooting happening, but things that have hung over the series since those first books are tidied up a little bit and, by the end of the novel, we feel that both Pendergast and the authors have shrugged off some of the weight of the history that came before. I am, as ever, excited to see where things go next (and to finally get caught up on the Helen Trilogy. Whoops!).