Preston and Child (White Fire, 2013, etc.) return with another adventure for modern crime fiction’s most esoteric detective, FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast.
Badged by the FBI but given free rein, wealthy as a wizard Wall Street trader, intelligent enough to make Mensa members feel inferior, master of exotic Chongg Ran meditation, Pendergast, “skin as pale as marble, eyes like silver conchas,” shoulders his custom 1911 Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special .45 and sets out to find the killer who deposited his estranged son, Alban, dead on his Manhattan mansion’s doorstep. Alban is autopsied, and an exotic turquoise is found in his stomach. At the American Museum of Natural History, Pendergast consults an expert gemologist—worth reading if buying turquoise—and heads for California’s Salton Sea in search of the Golden Spider Mine, all while giving only passing notice to a museum murder under investigation by his friend Lt. Vincent D’Agosta. So begins Pendergast’s deconstruction of a deadly conspiracy originating with patent medicine and ending with bizarre battles—triflic acid, poison darts and Sumatran buckthorn as weapons—at the museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A Pendergast ancestor, Hezekiah, built the family’s fortune on an elixir that ultimately left users with ALS- or Huntingon’s Disease–like symptoms. Now the villain is spurred by epigenetic changes wrought on users’ descendants by “Hezekiah’s Compound Elixir and Glandular Restorative.” Pendergast visits exotic climes for clues, and the authors offer sparkling descriptions—the Salton Fontainebleau is a “fantastical cross between a Chinese temple and an Asbury Park amusement parlor.” Constance Greene and other familiar characters appear, and Pendergast learns a startling truth about Alban, whose warped psyche had once wrought havoc.
Great character-driven crime fiction—readers new to the series won’t be entirely lost, and Pendergast patrons will be thoroughly satisfied.