STILL LIFE WITH CROWS by Douglas Preston


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Holmesian FBI Special Agent Pendergast returns, silver-eyed and cadaverous as ever, to take on a bizarre serial murder case in the cornfields of Kansas.

Pendergast’s genius could easily be more gripping than his vehicles, but so far—as with 1995’s Relic—such has not been the case. Showing that two minds research more richly than one, Preston and Childs bring literary flair to opening pages that suggest we’re walking into a virtual-reality painting of Kansas cornfields at sunset with turkey vultures circling above something dead. A cow perhaps? So thinks Sheriff Dent Hazen as he plows through endless, towering rows of bio-enhanced corn. But he finds instead a partly scalped female body in ripped clothes set into a 30-foot circle where the corn has been cropped, her splayed form encircled by dead crows jammed onto upright Indian arrows. So artistic! State troopers arrive to help Hazen, but GPS shows that the corpse falls within Hazen’s jurisdiction at Medicine Creek, a town well on the way down, its farmhouses mainly abandoned (thanks to bioengineering) and even the workforce at the slaughterhouse cut to pieces. Out of the dawn arrives the spectral Pendergast, off-duty but attracted by the serial murderer. But there’s only one body, says the sheriff. Pendergast smiles, sort of. And indeed, soon a bloated dead dog, its tail ripped off, appears, to be followed by another body, scalped entirely: a slaughterhouse worker boiled, buttered, and sugared, the skin flopping off his corpse. Where could the killer have found a cauldron big enough to boil a corpse? And why? Pendergast hires a purple-haired teenager with a tongue ring to be his assistant—and for the authors to put in peril when the monster at last shows up, all hairy and barefoot, in totally unexplored Kraus Kaverns, tunnels second in size only to the famed Carlsbad cave system, for a very long climax in varied avenues of darkness and bottomless pits.

Yummy beach reading.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-446-53142-1
Page count: 440pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2003


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