“Two lobster rolls, please,” said Pendergast as they stepped up to the shack.
The food quickly arrived: massive chunks of lobster in a creamy sauce, overstuffed into a buttered, split-top hot dog roll and spilling out into their cardboard trays.
“How does one eat it?” Constance said, eyeing hers.
“I am at a loss.”
This subtly hilarious excerpt gives us our two main characters trying to figure out how to eat a lobster roll, a decidedly unfavourable choice compared to their usually sophisticated fare. Crimson Shore is the fifteenth instalment in the Pendergast series written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Fortunately for those of us who have followed the series, the authors don’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. The books detail the cases of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, an FBI agent and renaissance man from a wealthy New Orleans family, whose job investigating homicides finds himself examining the darker side of humanity.
Confusion about lobster roll consumption aside, Pendergast is a highly intelligent and accomplished man, a decorated soldier, and a formidable agent. Over the course of the series, we have seen him solve numerous cases, save countless lives (arguably millions, if you count his work in The Book of the Dead), and face off against his twisted and brilliant brother, Diogenes. This story sees him taking off to unravel a new mystery with his mysterious ward, Constance Greene.
Recent books have witnessed Pendergast and Constance grow closer. Constance is a woman with an extraordinary history. Her consumption of an elixir decades ago gave her the distinct privilege (or curse) of delaying her aging. By Crimson Shore, Constance is close to 150 years old; she still looks 21. The Gentlemen, a nickname the fandom have bestowed upon the author masterminds, have never been ones to shy away from the supernatural. Their bestselling novel, Relic, published in 1995, which saw the debut of our Agent Pendergast, was all about the New York Museum of Natural History being terrorized by a genetically-modified monster. The only thing that prevents the series from being thrown into the genre of fantasy is the formidable ability of the Gents to find a plausible – if not, bizarre – scientific explanation for the strange occurrences by the end of every novel. Their work is a testament to both their imagination and to their encyclopedic knowledge, no doubt acquired from their collective experience in both editing and in museums. Child worked as an editor for many years at St. Martin’s Press while Preston worked as a writer and editor for a number of publications and notably, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York – the inspiration for the setting of many of their novels.
This latest adventure sends our hero and his ward-cum-assistant to the windy New England town of Exmouth where the residents engage in the regular small-town pastimes of gossip and petty neighbourly squabbles. With the promise of a rare bottle of wine as payment, Pendergast agrees to launch a private investigation into the theft of a valuable wine collection that has left its owner, a famous sculptor, devastated. The ransacked cellar quickly reveals a much more sinister and ancient crime in the form of an old cell where a man was evidently shackled and tortured. Retrieving the skeleton is likely the main motivation for the wine theft that is clearly a cover. Its discovery threatens to reveal an old, small town secret about greed and murder shared by select residents of Exmouth.
For those who simply happen to stumble across the book, it is an intriguing mystery on its own with the forensics, history lessons, and good-natured mocking of authority figures that make all the Preston and Child books a treat. Yet it is also an extra special novel for those who have been following the series from the beginning. What starts off as a seemingly isolated tale like old favourites Still Life With Crows and The Wheel of Darkness, it suddenly becomes a much more complex and revealing novel that not only explores deeper, admittedly awkward elements of Pendergast and Constance’s relationship, but also continues storylines from previous novels. Fans will be left throwing their copies at the wall after reading the frustrating but exciting cliffhanger at the end of the novel.
Old readers will also notice an increasingly laid-back, good-humoured attitude from Agent Pendergast necessitated in part by the dark turn the character took during the Helen trilogy. Over the course of the series, he has become less enigmatic as we’ve witnessed him face off against demons both within and without. For some, this presents an unwanted window into the soul of a man whose main intrigue comes from his unpredictability, privacy, and inscrutability. In any case, it is a privilege to learn more, and all parties will certainly be excited to see what the Gentlemen have in store for us when the next book is released in November 2016.