Monday, October 19, 2015

Two Graves - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

   2010; 578 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 12 (out of soon-to-be 15) in the Agent Pendergast Series; Book 3 (out of 3) in the “Helen” trilogy.  Genre : Action-Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    It is without a doubt the best moment in Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast’s life.  After 12 years of mourning the death of his wife, Helen, he has found out she is still alive and now has been reunited with her.

    Alas, the absolutely worst moment in his life occurs just a couple minutes later, when gunmen abduct Helen and whisk her away to an unknown fate, leaving several dead passersby in their wake.

    But it’s not a good idea to cross Special Agent Pendergast.  He’s an extraordinarily clever person with FBI credentials and resources.  And the fact that all he has to go on is a stolen taxi cab’s license plate is not going to deter him one bit when it comes to rescuing his wife.  And when he catches up to the kidnappers, there will be hell to pay.

    But what was it Confucius said?  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

What’s To Like...
    Two Graves is the final book in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s “Helen” trilogy.  The action begins immediately, recapping the end of Book 2, Cold Vengeance, and doesn’t slow down until the end of the book.  There are four seemingly-unrelated storylines to follow: Pendergast pursuing Helen’s abductors, D’Agosta investigating a bizarre hotel serial killer, Corrie Swanson finding her dad, and Dr. Felder trying to verify Constance’s age.  This is not a standalone novel, so if you’re unfamiliar with any of those preceding names, you may want to read this trilogy in order.

    I’ve always liked the way Preston and Child create their Ultimate Evils.  Here, he has almost superhuman talents, and even though you know Pendergast will prevail, you wonder how he can possibly overcome the UE’s abilities.  It is also extremely refreshing to have a hero who guesses wrong occasionally, especially in critical situations.  In Two Graves, Pendergast seriously misjudges the hotel killer’s identity and miscalculates whether a gunman will shoot his hostage.

    As always, the reader is treated to some great locations – New York City, the Deep South, Brazil, and even a little-known city in Mexico that I’ve been to: Cananea.  You’ll learn the difference between a Judas window and the Copenhagen window (to say nothing of Plato’s allegory), as well as brush up on your Portuguese and German.  There are thrills galore, twists aplenty, enough violence and cussing to remind you this is an adult series, and just the right amount of wit to keep everything in balance. 

    The tension builds steadily to an exciting ending, which includes a long, drawn-out battle sequence.  Helen’s story is resolved, albeit with the expected amount of Preston-&-Child surprises.  But the unforeseen delight was finally learning Constance Greene’s full story, as well as that of her newborn child that she claims to have killed by tossing him overboard during a transoceanic cruise.  But don't worry about not having any characters to ponder, a couple of new major ones are introduced for the reader to wonder about.

Kewlest New Word ...
Grotesqueries (n.; plural) : grotesque figures, objects, or actions..
Others : Judas window (n.; phrase).

    “Vinnie, what is this?”
    “An Italian spritz,” he said as he sat down.  “Ice, Prosecco, dash of club soda, Aperol.  Garnished with a slice of some blood oranges I picked up from Greenwich produce in Grand Central on the way home.”
    She took another sip, then set the glass down.  “Um.”  She hesitated.  “I wish I could say I liked it.”
    “You don’t?”
    “It tastes like bitter almonds.”  She laughed.  “I feel like Socrates here.  Sorry.  You went to a lot of trouble.”  (pg. 113)

    “And so you think you’re better than he is.”
    “Of course I’m better.  Everyone here is created for his place and knows it from the beginning.  This is the ultimate social order.  You’ve seen Nova Godoi.  There’s no crime.  We have no depression, no mental illness, no drug addiction – no social problems whatsoever.”
    “Supported by a camp of slave laborers.”
    “You speak from ignorance.  They have a purpose.  They have all they need or want – except, of course, we can’t let them reproduce.  Some people are simply better than others.”  (pg. 457)

“Glance into the world just as though time were gone: and everything crooked will become straight to you.”  (pg. 509, and a quote from Nietzsche)
    The quibbles about Two Graves are few and far between.  Some of the death-defying escapes are over-the-top.  When Aloysius does this, I’m okay with it.  When a psychiatrist does it, I raise my eyebrows.

    Not all the storylines converge smoothly.  The hunt for the hotel serial-killer kinda fades away once the killings stop, and I had a tough time believing the NYPD would just lose interest when the mutilations cease.  And the “Corrie and her father” thread, while it does get resolved, never did tie in to the main story.  Ditto for the bizarre place where Dr. Felder found the key piece of evidence regarding Constance’s claims.

    But I suspect this is not any sloppiness on the part of Preston & Child.  Instead, it is more likely a hint at where this series is heading.

    8½ Stars.  Which is what I gave the other two books in the trilogy.  This was a complex, action-packed, twisty-turny story that kept me entertained from beginning to end, and which held true to its promise to wrap everything up within the three books.

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