The Short Version: After all this time thinking his wife was dead, Agent Pendergast has discovered that she’s still alive and well – and minutes after their reunion, she’s kidnapped and swept away in a brutal shootout. Pendergast goes after her but another problem emerges: a serial killer of particular brutality and randomness has arrived in New York and has Pendergast on the brain…
The Review: The funny thing is, this might’ve actually been a halfway decent entry in somebody else’s series. Not my cup of tea, of course – I would’ve never read it had it been in one of those other series, those other airport potboilers who had the misfortune of lacking the Pendergast spookiness – but I’m sure there’s a decent entry in a series here somewhere.
Too bad it’s not a very good Pendergast novel. It’s better than the previous installment, the eye-rollingly bad Cold Vengeance, but not by much. The issues are plentiful and it’s quite telling, to me, that the authors have essentially erased many of the plot developments of this trilogy in the space of only two further books – there is a sense, having read the series out-of-order as I have done – that they too feel a little ashamed of phoning it in here. They lost sight of what made their hero so interesting, in my opinion.
The plot in this novel is actually several – and they develop awkwardly, all strange angles and uneven molding. (There are SPOILERS here, by the way, in case you’re still working through this series… although I’d encourage you to just skip this trilogy and read a Wikipedia entry or something.) The opening section of the book sees Pendergast in hot pursuit of his kidnapped wife, the chapter headings show how many hours it was since she was taken. He dogs the pursuers from New York down the coast to Florida before heading back across the country and chasing them into Mexico, where the chase comes to a conclusion with Helen’s death. Any emotional impact here is minimal – we haven’t had enough time with Helen to really appreciate having her “back” and we’ve also been a little busy watching Pendergast pull off superhuman feats: he’s been shot, knifed, dropped out of a taking-off plane, driven a car over thousand miles at an average speed of 110mph… and he seems pretty unfazed by it all. He feels more like Jack Reacher here than the erudite Special Agent we’ve come to know.
Pendergast comes back to New York… and decides he’s probably going to kill himself. He’s depressed, nothing interests him, even the efforts of Vincent D’Agosta and Viola Maskelene can’t rouse him. It’s only after a serial killer starts pulling off strange murders (D’Agosta in charge of the case) that he rouses himself… and it turns out the killer is his son. Who he didn’t know he had. Except also he actually has TWIN sons, one of whom is the killer and the other of whom is kind.
Wanna know why he had twins? Because Helen had been genetically modified by the Nazis as a twin herself and so HER eventual twins were set up to be some ubermensch beta test where the one twin would be given all the best genes and the other twin would be little more than an organ bank, should the good twin get sick. They’ve been plotting all of this from a little Fourth Reich in the middle of Brazil, by the way, and the final test was to get Alban (the psychopath Pendergast child) to go to New York and commit these murders and then kill Pendergast. The Nazis would then… I don’t know, take over the world? Step Three: Profit?
It’d all be pretty hilarious if it wasn’t so staggeringly bad. I haven’t even mentioned the completely irrelevant side-side-plot of Corrie Swanson trying to clear her estranged father’s name of a bank robbery that has… nothing to do with anything, in the end. Ditto the doctor’s attempts to figure out if Constance is actually over a hundred years old or not. None of this stuff actually mattered one whit – it was taking up time and space, although it at least felt less outlandish than the stuff with the Nazis.
Rating: 2 out of 5. It’s all howlingly cliched writing, full of unreasonably outlandish set pieces and a villainous plan that would look weak in an actual 50s B-movie, let alone a 21st Century novel. While the final assault on the Nazi stronghold in Brazil is convincingly epic, it feels like it was written for another series and they just dropped Pendergast’s name in when that book fell apart and they needed to recycle the plot points. Alban is no Diogenes and the authors must’ve realized their mistakes quickly – because by the end of Blue Labyrinth, the Pendergast who excited readers in the early going is back. Thank goodness – because if I’d read this series chronologically, I don’t know that I would’ve ever gotten that far. This trilogy is enough to turn you off for good.