2011; 356 pages. New Author? : No. Book 11 (out of 14, but soon to be 15) in the Agent Pendergast Series; Book 2 (out of 3) in the “Helen” trilogy. Genre : Thriller; Murder-Mystery. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Fate has certainly had some surprises recently for Aloysius Pendergast. The hunting accident that killed Helen, his wife, twelve years ago turned out to be premeditated murder. To boot, it seems Helen was leading a secret double-life for many years that Aloysius was completely unaware of. Which is kind of embarrassing since Pendergast is a special agent for the FBI.
He still doesn’t know why his wife was murdered, but at least Aloysius knows who perpetrated it. And he’s sworn cold vengeance upon the poor soul. But Fate now deals yet another surprise to Pendergast. Helen’s “killer” reveals that she didn’t die by accident or by murder. She’s still alive.
Sure, that could just be a ploy by the killer to escape retribution.
Except he was watching Aloysius die as he spat out that revelation.
What’s To Like...
Cold Vengeance is the middle book of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s “Helen” trilogy, and takes place almost immediately following Book 1, Fever Dream, reviewed here. It has all the elements you’ve come to expect in P&C’s Agent Pendergast series: the action starts immediately,, there’s a plethora of plot twists, and a team of lethal foes who are every bit as daring and resourceful as Aloysius.
The settings are great – all over the Deep South, Maine, New York City (onshore and offshore), and the wild moors of Scotland. Constance Greene, who was tangential at best in Fever Dream, plays a prominent role here; and she’s probably my favorite character in the series. Ned Betterton is new, and it was fun to follow his antics as well.
All the characters are richly developed, even the secondary ones. We get to see the inside of Pendergast’s head as he struggles with the hope/belief that Helen is still alive in the face of overwhelming scientific and forensic evidence to the contrary.
The tension builds steadily to an action-packed climax. You know Pendergast will prevail, but still you’re on the edge of your seat wondering how he’s going to do it. Some major characters die, but of course, in light of the revelations about Helen, I’m not writing their obituaries just yet.
Cold Vengeance is very definitely not a standalone novel, and the authors don’t insert a backstory in at the beginning; so be sure to read Fever Dream first. There is violence and profanity, although I wouldn’t call it excessive. This is not one of those P&C novels where you have to wonder whether the root of the evil is natural or supernatural.
Kewlest New Word ...
Kylix (n.) : an ancient Greek cup with a shallow bowl and a tall stem. (Google-image it)
Others : Krater (n.); Lacunar (adj.).
This was so easy. He could tell right away they were hiding something big. The whole damn brainless group. And he was going to know it in a moment.
At that moment, a large shadow fell over him. A huge man had emerged from the gloom of the unfinished building. His pink head was shaven, and a ring of fat the size of a small life preserver bulged around the rear of his neck, bristling with little blond hairs. One cheek bulged with what appeared to be a cud of chewing tobacco. He folded one hamhock arm over the other and stared, first at the seated group, then at Betterton.
Betterton realized this could only be Tiny himself. (pg. 145)
“She kept asking about Pendergast, what he’s up to, when he’s coming back.” (. . .)
“What did you tell her?”
“The truth. That I wish I knew myself.” (. . .)
“Pendergast scares me,” said Hayward. “You know, he gives the impression of being in icy control. But underneath . . . he’s like a maniac.”
“A maniac who solves cases.”
“Vinnie, a case isn’t exactly solved if the suspect ends up dead.” (pg. 172)
“She was no idiot, although she was doing her damnedest to look like one. (pg. 38 )
I read Book 1 last February, and I was mildly concerned about how much of the overall plotline I’d already forgotten, until it hit me – very little of “the big picture” was revealed in Fever Dream. Here in Cold Vengeance, Preston & Child drop in a few more storyline tidbits – we now know there’s a Nazi angle, for instance – but really, for every question answered, two new ones are raised.
This is both clever and vexing for the reader. Yes, the book ends at a logical spot, bordering on being a cliffhanger; and the next – and final – phase in the adventure is about to commence, this time pitting Aloysius against the real Ultimate Evils in the story. Both the reader and Pendergast still have no idea what’s going on here, and all sorts of plot threads remain loose and dangling.
I’m chomping at the bit to finally get some answers as to who’s doing what and why, and the concluding book, Two Graves, sits upon my TBR shelf, waiting to be read. I have little doubt that I will finish this trilogy before the end of the year.
8½ Stars. This was the usual good storytelling from Preston and Child, but it’s hard to give a middle-book-of-a-trilogy a higher rating than that.