Today is Tuesday, September 16, 2014

POSTSCRIPTS The Pendergast Novels

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About a year ago I read a review on a novel called Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They both write alone but together have done a series they call the Pendergast novels. I bought it, read it and was so intrigued I also got The Wheel of Darkness. At the back of this book they listed the series of nine books in order – a wonderful idea. I immediately ordered the first two.

Their protagonist is FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast – a brilliant, classically educated, independently wealthy and most eccentric New Orleans gentleman who rides around in a chauffeured Rolls Royce seemingly taking whatever cases tweak his fancy! He travels back in time in his mind – a sort of trance that he calls a memory crossing. He is an avaricious reader and researcher and must have an eidetic memory as he seems to recall all he reads. He is an intriguing character and a good fit for the off the wall stories that Preston and Child created for him.

The stories are unbelievable. BUT! Are they really? They could be true. Or could they? One person calls the series “incredible and engrossing!” Another says it is “very gripping and intelligent writing.” I agree with both and with another who summed the books up as “Old New York, present-day New York, serial killers, archaeology, forensics, museums, etc. etc.” The etc.s could be paleontology, adventure and read all night suspense.

Most of the ones I have read feature the New York Museum of Natural History whose Gothic towers and crenellations overlook Central Park. The Museum serves not only as the base site for a number of the books but the source of many interesting and well developed characters as well. There is always an ancient discovery of some magnitude and mystery that somehow connects to the present time. 

As you know cities that have been around for several centuries are layer cakes of history. As you dig down there is no telling what you may find. In the most recent book I read, The Cabinet of Curiosities, an excavation for a new skyscraper in NYC uncovers an old charnel house that holds the disarticulated bones of thirty six victims with strange markings on their spinal columns and a note sewed into a dress. Other times the vast reaches of Museum storage might yield their secrets.  Or maybe a monastery in Tibet harbors a special treasure.

In the early days of discoveries and archaeological activities, you may recall that the wealthy who financed them also reaped the benefits of being able to keep what was found. Unlike today! Collectors would set up displays of all sorts of strange and unusual items in cases and people would pay to look at them. These were called Cabinets of Curiosity. As scientific methods improved and minds more fully grasped the importance of the discoveries, museums were established and began to obtain these cabinets as the original base for their collections.

The New York City Police Department, Museum officials and one particular newspaperman, William Smithback, are also featured in the books. I enjoy their characters because you really get to know them – especially by the fifth book! It is difficult to describe these books but they are riveting and the ending is never what you suspect it might be.

If you enjoy history they are fascinating. I have always said one requirement for a top notch archaeologist is a great imagination!! This is so true in these books. I do envy the imaginations of Preston and Child. They dig up great stories 

If you love suspense novels these are absolutely your ticket. As I reached the end of the Cabinet book, I stayed up way past my bedtime, although I kept telling myself to stop and go to sleep. I didn’t listen to me. There is one more self-contained novel then a trilogy begins that introduces Pendergast’s brother Diogenes. I might mention that madness runs in their family and their elderly great aunt is constrained and locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane. You will just have to read them.

Relic, Reliquary, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life with Crows, Brimstone, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness, Cemetery. You don’t have to but I suggest you read the books in the order listed above.

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