2013; 470 pages. New Author? : No, and no. Book 13 (out of 17) in the Agent Pendergast Series. Genre : Thriller; Murder-Mystery. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Okay, the opportunity of a deathtime, if you want to get technical about it. Corrie Swanson’s looking for a topic for her Forensic Criminology thesis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, so this is a godsend.
It seems that, way back in the 1870’s, a man-eating bear went crazy around the Colorado town of Roaring Fork, killing 11 miners, and even eating some of them, before the rampage finally stopped. Of course, that was more than a century ago, the victims have been buried for a long time, and no one would dream of allowing them to be dug up so some forensics analysis could be run on them for a thesis.
Ah, but Roaring Fork was just a mining town back then; it’s now a posh ski resort, where people look down their noses at you if you’re “only” a millionaire. All the caskets in the old graveyard have been unearthed to make way for a new housing development. Money trumps dignity every time.
The coffins presently repose in a warehouse, awaiting reburial in a new, still-to-be-determined location. Surely no one would object to Corrie looking at the aftereffects of a man-mauling, man-eating bear.
Yet for reasons unknown, some of the residents of Roaring Fork do object. Even to the point of threatening Corrie’s life.
Now why would someone do that?
What’s To Like...
There are three main threads in White Fire, namely: a.) Who killed those miners way back when, b.) Who’s trying to kill Corrie nowadays, and c.) Who’s setting fire to various mansions in Roaring Fork and why? That makes for a busy storyline, but as usual, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are up to the task.
The settings are limited, with most of the story taking place in and around Roaring Fork. The book opens briefly in New York City, and later on Pendergast makes a brief trip to London. That's it. Despite this, there are a bunch of people to meet and suspect of assorted skullduggery.
Reading a tale with Aloysius Pendergast in it is a plus, and here we also have a backstory featuring Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. The highlight of the book is a 40-page “missing Sherlock Holmes story” penned by Preston & Child, and it’s the only one I’ve read thus far that does a great job imitating an Arthur Conan Doyle tale.
I enjoyed the nod to Watership Down, also to The Hound of the Baskervilles. I also liked the info-dump about mining chemistry. Here it was in regard to extracting silver from ore. The company I work for sells chemicals into the mining industry, albeit mostly to copper and gold mines, but the chemistry is quite similar, and it was fun to read about a process I'm familiar with.
Proctor, Constance Greene, and Lt. Vincent D’Agosta are all absent from White Fire, and to be honest, I’ve never found Corrie to be an exciting character. The storyline therefore dragged a bit for me for about 80 pages while Corrie once again gets herself into trouble. But Pendergast shows up, saves the day, and everything zips along just fine thereafter.
The ending is both exciting and twisty, with a great, albeit contrived, chase scene thrown in. All threads are tied up, although the resolution of the arson crime spree seemed a bit rushed. There’s lots of cussing, and some gruesome ways to die, but that’s true of any book in this series. This is a standalone story, as well as part of the series.
Kewlest New Word ...
Titubating (v.) : reeling or stumbling, as if tipsy; staggering
Others : redounded (v.) bolus (n.) descant (n.).
“It took them rather longer than I’d hoped to complete the paperwork,” said Pendergast, perusing the list. “Fortunately, the Sebastian’s dining room is open late. I think the Chateau Pichon-Longueville 2000 will do nicely – don’t you?”
“I don’t know jack about wine, sorry.”
“You should learn. It is one of the true and ancient pleasures that make human existence tolerable.” (pg. 98)
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Wilde. Do you mean to say that these men were … cannibals?”
“Indeed I do. American cannibals.”
Doyle shook his head. “Monstrous. Monstrous.”
“Quite so,” Wilde said. “They have none of the good manners of your English cannibals.” (pg. 374)
“Effing? I see your penchant for charming euphemisms has not abated.” (pg. 99)
There are some quibbles, which was surprising since I’m an avid fan of this series.
First of all, most of the characters seemed black-or-white to me; I prefer “gray” ones. The lone exception to this was Capt. Stacy Bowdree, who hopefully will be developed into a recurring character.
Second, while Corrie’s impulsiveness getting her once again into needless trouble can be tolerated (it’s part of her character), here some of her actions border on being just plain stupid. For instance, at one point, she knows she’s being followed, yet instead of hightailing it to safety, she deliberately heads for a mine, knowing full well that entering it is a dead-end.
Third, one of the earlier traits of an Agent Pendergast tale – “Is the evil natural or supernatural?” – isn’t utilized here. Nor is there anything even remotely “epic” about the storyline. Corrie gets into a fix, Pendergast uses his position (working for the FBI has its perks) and Holmesian sleuthing skills to bail her out, and a century-old cold case is put to rest. The world will little note what was accomplished here.
8 Stars. I don’t think that White Fire will ever be anyone’s favorite Agent Pendergast book, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dud. This was still a page-turner for me, and the Sherlock Holmes story alone makes it a worthwhile read. And a so-so Preston & Child book is still a better read than most of the other thrillers out there on the market.