Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
For twelve years, he believed she died in an accident. Then, he was told she’d been murdered. Now, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast discovers that his beloved wife Helen is alive. But their reunion is cut short when Helen is brazenly abducted before his eyes. And Pendergast is forced to embark on a furious cross-country chase to rescue her.
But all this turns out to be mere prologue to a far larger plot: one that unleashes a chillingly-almost supernaturally-adept serial killer on New York City. And Helen has one more surprise in store for Pendergast: a piece of their shared past that makes him the one man most suited to hunting down the killer.
His pursuit of the murderer will take Pendergast deep into the trackless forests of South America, to a hidden place where the evil that has blighted both his and Helen’s lives lies in wait . . . a place where he will learn all too well the truth of the ancient proverb:
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
I’ve read nearly all of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s co-authored novels, with the exception of the new Gideon Crewe series and an older title (Mount Dragon). What I believe began as a collection of stand-alone novels eventually morphed into a universe shared by these titles, and then a singular series storyline that has driven the last half-dozen or so titles. I’ve always found Preston and Child’s books to be uneven — a superb title is followed by one I find mediocre, and then it’s followed by a far better one, and then by a so-so one. The last title, Cold Vengence, was, I felt, a resurgence of their strengths after a slump that lasted for a few years. And don’t get me wrong, a “slump” for Preston and Child is still better than the highs of many other authors.
Two Graves had three “movements” to it. The first is the immediate follow-up to Cold Vengeance. In the very final pages of CV, Helen is returned to Pendergast in a New York City park (which might have been Central Park, I don’t have the book in front of me), only to have her snatched out of his hands in the final paragraphs as a gun battle surrounds them as two sides struggle to capture Helen. Two Graves picks up immediately from this point as Pendergast chases after Helen and her abductors in a non-stop pursuit, culminating in her death.
The second movement centres on the sadistic and eerily supernatural murders happening in New York City hotels. At this point, the narrative largely shifts to D’Agosta, Pendergast’s partner from many novels, and his attempts at investigating them. As the murders unfold, D’Agosta goes to Pendergast for help. Pendergast initially refuses to get involved as he is deeply despondent from the death of Helen and is contemplating suicide. But something clicks and Pendergast looks at the files D’Agosta leaves, only to find he has a deeply personal connection (that he was previously unaware even existed) to the murderer.
The third movement shifts almost entirely back to Pendergast as he travels to Brazil to reach the source of all his pain — the people who abducted and murdered Helen are the same people controlling the murderer in New York… who are, and this will sound cheesy out of the context of the narrative, a still-thriving Nazi community.
Preston and Child write very intellectually. They constantly use proper terms for architectural features, music, psychology, and history — it’s clear they know their stuff and they include it in the book. While this strength gives the narrative a particularly interesting feel that I’ve yet to see replicated anywhere else, it’s also a small drawback. The intellectual narrative does not always allow for quick heart-stopping action. The action is still thrilling, but it could be even more so with sparser writing.
As well, it creates problems with their POV characters. As I learned in a workshop by Robert J Sawyer, everything in the chapter must be seen and related through the character’s perspective. So, I can see Pendergast being intellectual about everything and knowing all the proper obscure terminology of things, but to the same language used in other character POVs strikes me as a POV violation. They do shift a bit in language and tone, especially when they follow D’Agosta, but for the large part, there is still that POV violation. HOWEVER, it’s forgivable. One of the key rules of writing that I’ve learned so far is that if you’re going to break a rule, do it effectively and consistently. It is certainly effective, and it’s certainly consistent.
The supernatural element of the book was a nice inclusion, harkening back to the days when they wrote more supernaturally-based thrillers, like The Relic and Riptide. In this one, like in all others, a lot of the supernaturalness is explained away by science, which roots it in reality. The last few books, though, didn’t have their supernaturalness explained by science so much as being dismissed as a trick. So this was a nice return to form.
This entry in their ongoing series provides some nice development and conclusion for character arcs:
- Corrie Swanson, originally from Still Life with Crows, finally seems to find some solid grounding in her life and seems to be moving forward.
- D’Agosta and Hayward develop nicely with their ongoing relationship.
- Constance Green’s past is finally revealed in depth and we learn the true fate of the son she supposedly killed.
The end of this entry read largely like the end of a series, which makes me wonder where this is going to go next. I see on the Wikipedia page for the authors that there is another entry in the Pendergast series, White Fire, coming out later this year. Given my ongoing series of posts on novel series (found here, here, and here), I’m not entirely confident that the next one will be as good. In this one, Pendergast reaches the very bottom of his soul, drowns in hurt, overcomes obstacles both immensely monumental and entirely personal, and barely makes it through. So, where do you go once you’ve reached such a climactic high in your series?
I will still buy White Fire and read it, as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are still some of my favourite authors and I’ve been reading them since the beginning. (I can recall reading The Relic, their first title, while sitting in English class in grade 8.) Though their books have had some relative dips in quality, overall they have consistently solid in telling stories that are interesting, gripping, and adventurous. Two Graves was an exceptional entry in their catalogue.