The 18th installment in the Pendergast series by Preston and Child (City of Endless Night, 2018, etc.) gives the hero a partner in the hunt for a strange killer.
A woman walks a dog in a Miami Beach cemetery, and her dog finds a human heart. Soon more hearts turn up at the gravesites of women thought to have committed suicide a decade before. The FBI assigns agents Pendergast and Coldmoon to work with the Miami PD on the case. Pendergast is highly successful in closing cases on his own but “was about as rogue as they came,” and suspects tend not to survive his investigations. Agent Coldmoon’s secret assignment is to keep a close eye on his partner, “a bomb waiting to go off,” who tends to do something “out of left field, or of questionable ethics, or even specifically against orders.” The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breastbones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves, signed “Mister Brokenhearts.” This kind of weirdness is in Pendergast’s wheelhouse, as he’s an odd sort himself, quite outside the FBI culture. Rather like Sherlock Holmes, he sees patterns that others miss. He’s tall, gaunt, dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent. Both men are great characters—Coldmoon curses in Lakota and prefers “tarry black” coffee that Pendergast likens to “poison sumac” and “battery acid.” They wonder about the earlier deaths and whether the women had really hanged themselves. For answers they require exhumations, new autopsies, and a medical examiner’s close examinations of the hyoid bones. Meanwhile the deeply troubled killer ponders his next action, which he hopes will one day wipe away his pain and guilt and bring atonement. Alligators, bullets, and a sinkhole contribute to a nerve-wracking finish.
Readers will love the quirky characters in this clever yarn. Pendergast and Coldmoon make an excellent pair.