Preston and Child (Two Graves, 2012, etc.) bring back FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, expert in the psychology of serial killers and other criminal deviants.
Pendergast is independently wealthy, and despite his cold, logical nature, he possesses a certain compassion, explaining his support of the once-troubled, youthful Corrie Swanson as she navigates the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Corrie needs a thesis to please a chauvinist professor. She finds it after discovering a story told by Oscar Wilde to Arthur Conan Doyle at a literary dinner. The tale related to no crime but rather, the 1876 killing of miners in Roaring Fork, Colo., by a grizzly bear. Her thesis: a study of perimortem trauma on human bones. The problem: Roaring Fork is now a ski resort of "oppressive wealth, entitlement, and smugness"—think Aspen—and the powers that be, land-developing descendants of silver barons who raped the mountains, deny her access to the bodies, recently exhumed because of a new construction project. Pendergast leverages permission, and Swanson begins her study, only to discover the miners were killed—and cannibalized—by humans. Shocking, certainly, but something else wicked her way comes: A modern-day fiend is murdering moneyed Roaring Fork residents and incinerating their bodies by burning down their mansions. Pendergast remains one of crime fiction’s memorable protagonists—pale, silvery of eye, inscrutable of mien, always black-clad—and it’s he who discovers the old deaths bear witness to the new. The authors provide a reasonable supporting cast, including a rich-boy ski bum–now–town librarian; an overwhelmed sheriff who grows into his job; Roger Kleefisch, a Baker Street Irregular, who assists Pendergast in uncovering lost Conan Doyle esoterica; and Capt. Stacy Bowdree, lone descendant of one of the dead miners.
Jaded crime fiction buffs might find the premise hyperbolic, but beneath the overwrought headlines, Pendergast solves captivating mysteries.