Cold Vengeance, Preston & Child — Pendergast #11

The humanization of Special Agent Pendergast.

Because it is part 2 of a 3-part series concerning the death of AXP’s wife Helen, this gets four stars. As a standalone, it would be three.

It is a crescendo of the previous (part 1 — Fever dream), thus it requires the escalation of Special Agent AXL Pendergast’s drive– the stakes are definitely higher. Standing alone, it

My initial complaint lies in the first hundred pages. I was really beginning to think the whole thing was going to take place in the Scottish mud, and, happily, I was wrong. But at least in the moors, we knew who, what, where and why.

Once out of mire, Pendergast had to deal with locals who were thinly disguised so-called rednecks right out of America’s storied south… When Pendergast and Captain Hayward were confronted by the rough-necks, I think I heard the theme from “Deliverance” playing softly in the background.

This book offered Pendergast more opportunities to be fallible. He makes mistakes here, fails to think, do and prevent. Here he is not the white knight with all the predictive power to anticipate his nemeses next moves. While vulnerability is good — lending verisimilitude to a wholly invincible human being — done to excess, as this might have been, such perceived weaknesses tend to break down our established expectations.  He is, after all, a super hero!

None of these complaints was enough to close the book on the series. Quite the contrary. In fact, I was willing to push ahead because I just knew it would all be worked out, brilliantly by the end.

This “episode” brings together Vincent D’Agosto, Constance Greene and of all people, Corrie Spencer. Another reviewer on GoodReads —  ( observed that clichés abounded in this book. I had missed that, and in retrospect, I must wonder why P&C went that way. Humor? Nothing in these books is funny — to me — but I am a bit of a fuddy duddy.

The slow, creeping revelation of who/what’s behind Helen’s murder is a little disarming. Not because of the “Nazi thing.” We all hate the Nazis and love to find literary ways to exterminate them. It reminds me of some books that use stereotypes like the Russian Mafia or the American urban gangsters or Spanish drug lords as a backdrop, as if for lack of another landscape upon which the hero may perform. I do not suspect P&C of such a device, their deftness with character, setting and conflict (speaking of  clichés), eliminates that criticism. So, I am not sure how I feel about it, just yet. After December’s release of part 3, titled Two Graves, I can decide if it wasn’t a bit over the top.

One of the finer things I have discovered about P&C’s style is the slow revelation of facts, the constant but subtle reminders of what has passed that will come again. The mention of twins at least three times in the book comes to mind. This is beautifully done.

Of tremendous appeal for me was the manipulation by the authors of my disaffection for Esterhazy. First he’s a cold-blooded killer, and next he’s a wuss, terrified of some imagined spectre of hell, then he’s a cohort in abominations; but throughout it all, there is a humanity about him. Even when he left P in the swamp, we must ask why he didn’t just kill him? Even later, when we come to know some of the facts that drive Esterhazy’s erratic actions, there is no explanation for his not killing Pendergast — except of course that it would end the series. On the boat, we begin to sense Esterhazy’s softer side. Yes, he was a shit who took care of himself first and foremost, but there are moments during the boat scenes when we feel him flinch at some real and implied future atrocities, and we come slowly and unconsciously to realize that he might not be dead inside.

When Pendergast exacts the truth that Esterhazy has been protecting for twelve years, and we get a glimpse of what has gone on, the book ends… to be continued in Two Graves. If you have read Cold Vengeance, then you know what two graves likely refers to; I am counting the months to its release.

Again I must resurrect Still Life with Crows.  (see my review here)  — SLWC is placed firmly in my favorite books of all time, having to my mind all the elements of great literature. Like a top-ten list of movies, there are always the same handful – Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Mockingbird, Godfather .. thereafter the lists grow more varied depending on the reviewers. Shawshank Redemption would follow Godfather — for me. So for me to shelve SLWC alongside Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Bleak House, Look Homeward Angel, East of Eden, and To Kill a Mockingbird, is more than a knee-jerk reaction to a great story; it is a recognition of everything superlative in a novel. It is equal to those listed and better than anything in its genre that I’ve come across. Though I invite your suggestions to prove me wrong.

To find Corrie Spencer showing in the Helen Pendergast series was almost like greeting a lost acquaintance, someone I wondered about — how is she doing in school? Did Corrie meet up with her father? Where is her crazy mother now? P&C’s placement of Corrie in this trilogy was genius.

Again, I can’t wait to read the rest of the truth about Helen. A true cliff-hanger ending, it leaves Corrie, D’Agosto and two Esterhazys in terrifying jeopardy. Only Constance is safe.

One prediction for the future book, Two Graves:   I believe the male Dr. Esterhazy will have to die for his sins, for they are many, even though they were committed in apparent valor.

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