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A high water mark in suspense literature!

  • Oct 28, 2010
When the gruesome ashes of Jeremy Grove's still smoldering body are discovered in the locked bedroom of his ostentatious Hampton estate, it was a pretty easy leap to the paranormal conclusion of spontaneous human combustion. A melted cross, the clear odour of sulphur and brimstone and the image of a hoof print seared into the floor make a further leap to the conclusion of supernatural cause and a pact with the devil gone wrong a small step indeed. FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, perennial Johnny-on-the-spot in the environs of such a bizarre case, artfully inserts himself into the investigation and finds himself allied with some old friends - Sergeant Vincent D'Agosta of the Southampton PD and Captain Laura Hayward of NYPD.

Pendergast and his team quickly determine that Grove, a cynical, selfish, harshly outspoken art critic, was involved in a strange relationship with Nigel Cutforth, a wealthy, high-living music producer, Locke Bullard, industrial magnate and pompous bully, and Rainier Beckman, a shadowy man that seems to have no past at all. The search for the solution to this bizarre mystery drives our heroes down a Byzantine path to a medieval castle in the Italian countryside and a small hostel in Florence where the four men apparently spent time together as students on a European vacation.

"Brimstone" is an exhilarating piece of work that clearly takes the team of Preston and Child to new heights. We are treated to splendid characterization for both newcomers such as the corpulent Count Isidore Fosco (a brilliant masterpiece of overbearing pomposity) and the maturing and continued fine-tuning of returning characters such as D'Agosta and Pendergast. Multiple plot lines are deftly handled and intricately woven together - the solution to the eerie opening murder mystery; the introduction of young Constance Green, Pendergast's ward and the ominous letter from his evil sibling, Diogenes, that is a clear set-up to the second novel in the trilogy, "Dance of Death"; and, of course, the flowering of romance between D'Agosta and Hayward - with each line complementing the others and contributing to a beautifully integrated whole.

I don't quite know how they did it but Lincoln and Preston even managed to insert a host of fascinating scholarly asides on a veritable cornucopia of cultural and scientific topics ranging from the history and manufacture of the Stradivarius violin, through opera, instrumental music, the Renaissance, modern art, secret societies and stealth weaponry without slowing the pace of the novel for even a single page.

I find myself positively drooling over the prospect of reading "Dance of Death" and "The Book of the Dead", the final piece of the trilogy.

So why only four stars?

It's a sad fact that far too many modern authors (Lincoln and Preston included) refuse to accept that a real villain, given the opportunity, will simply pop an enemy without fanfare, escape and get on with a life of crime. The notion of the bad guy sitting down, having a civil conversation with the good guys and spilling his guts filling in every missing detail of the investigation before he eventually gets around to the killing is trite, overused and, frankly, hokey! The killing, of course, is also done through some extended, convoluted scheme or contraption as opposed to the simple, more expedient method of placing a gun against the temple and quickly squeezing the trigger. For goodness' sake, next time let Pendergast wring the solution out on the strength of his own sleuthing (it's not as if he isn't clever enough, that's for sure). He can sit down at the end of the story and play Sherlock to D'Agosta's Watson, fleshing out the details and explaining the puzzle to lesser lights such as us readers.

Paul Weiss

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October 28, 2010
I read this series occasionally, but really don't like the Pendergast character, which dilutes my enjoyment. Too bad, because the plots are usually pretty good. Very thoughtful review, Paul, thanks.
October 28, 2010
That's a shame, Linda. I see Pendergast as one of the most interesting literary characters created this century. I'm convinced he'll stand the test of time and the 22nd century will be looking at him as their version of Sherlock Holmes.
More Brimstone (Pendergast, Book 5) reviews
Quick Tip by . October 28, 2010
The debut to a remarkable suspense trilogy that pits FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast against his evil brother Diogenes. As an aside, thriller lovers will surely enjoy the remarkable parallels between Pendergast and Sherlock Holmes.
review by . March 21, 2005
Special Agent Pendergast has evolved to be Preston & Child's focal point. In each of their novels they seem to release a little more information about him.    In this book he has evolved to be the equal of Sherlock Holmes with a little bit of Houdini thrown in. He now has a police sidekick (Officer D'Agosta) just like Holmes had his Doctor Watson and the book sets up for a showdown with Pendergast's evil older brother (a la Mycroft Holmes).     The book seems …
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Fans of cerebral action adventure novels know that, outside of Michael Crichton, no one delivers the goods like the veteran writing team of Preston and Child (Relic;Still Life with Crows; etc.). As if invigorated by their recent solo efforts (Child:Utopia, etc.; Preston:The Codex, etc.), the two now deliver their best novel ever, an extravagant tale of international intrigue. As their admirers know, one reason Preston and Child thrillers work is because most feature arguably the most charismatic detective in contemporary fiction: FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, a wealthy, refined yet ruthless descendant of Holmes who's very much his own character. Pendergast, as well as other Preston and Child semiregulars, notably rough-hewn former NYPD cop Vincent D'Agosta, Watson to Pendergast's Sherlock, tread nearly every page of this vastly imagined, relentlessly enjoyable thriller. The body of a notorious art critic is found in his Hamptons, L.I., mansion, wholly burned, with a cloven hoofprint nearby: the devil's work? [...] Erudite, swiftly paced, brimming (occasionally overbrimming) with memorable personae and tense set pieces, this is the perfect thriller to stuff into a beach bag.
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ISBN-10: 044653143X
ISBN-13: 978-0446531436
Author: Douglas Preston
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

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