Amid the salt marshes near Exmouth, Massachusetts, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds an antique medallion of Morax, a demon. Is there a connection to the deliberate sinking of the cargo ship Pembroke Castle by desperate town folk in 1884?
In Preston and Child’s (Blue Labyrinth, 2014, etc.) latest, renowned sculptor Percival Lake asks the weird and wily Pendergast to find his looted wine collection. Oddly, the thieves left behind a case of the rarest vintage, Chateau Haut-Braquilanges ’04. Intrigued, Pendergast and his ward, Constance, drive to seaside Exmouth, where they meet an incompetent police chief who’s overlooked a skeleton long ago walled up in Lake’s wine cellar. Pendergast discovers the hidden skeleton is linked to a missing suite of flawless rubies, the Pride of Africa. In the "lean winter" of 1883-84, featuring disastrous weather caused by a faraway volcanic eruption, townspeople doused the lighthouse and lured Pembroke Castle, carrying the rubies, aground. The grounding and what followed became an atrocity shadowing Exmouth history. Oenophiles will shudder as the wine theft turns sideshow after a historian tracing the shipwreck and a local attorney are killed. Both have "TYBANE" carved into their corpses. Those new to the series get no back story on Pendergast, not on FBI assignment in this case, or Constance, but the book is entertaining, spiced up with arcane words like "desuetude" and quirky descriptions—a body found with a crab "cowering in the comb-over." Employing Chongg Ran meditation and a Les Baer .45, Pendergast is an appealingly quirky hero, as when he remarks of Moby-Dick, "I, myself, am not fond of animal stories."
Pendergast is a modern Sherlock Holmes, albeit one preferring absinthe to cocaine. The conclusion of this compelling two-prong mystery assures another crime conundrum is sure to wash ashore.