The Book of the Dead


A light read in the tradition of Preston and Cloud, The Book of the Dead is the third, and perhaps best of the "Brothers Pendergast" trilogy. Now, this trilogy in no way compares with one more familiar to Catholic readers written by some British Catholic Writer; however, it is summertime beach-reading and acceptable for that purpose.

That said, it brings up my main beef with these writers and their editors. The writing is lazy and slipshod. Take this minor example:

from The Book of the Dead
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Dr. Nora Kelly stood in her laboratory gazing at a large specimen table covered with fragments of ancient Anasazi pottery. The potsherds were of an unusual type that glowed almost golden in the bright lights, a sheen caused by countless mica particles in the original clay. She had collected the sherds during a summertime expedition to the Four Corners area of the Southwest, and now she had arranged them on a huge contour map of the Four Corners, each sherd in the precise geographical location where it had been found.

As exposition, there are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to start to identify the flaws. For example, Nora Kelly is, in fact, looking not at the table, but at the potsherds on the table. Another point--if the potsherds are Anasazi that cannot be anything other than ancient--there are no modern Anasazi to make potsherds. Finally, no matter how large the map, the sherds are going to be too big to mark a precise location by themselves. Moreover, even if you had a map at a 1:10 ungainly scale, you're hardly using the tools as you ought if you're placing priceless fragment on the paper itself to mark the locations--better to use the catalogue numbers and write them on the map with precise lines to indicate position found.

The book abounds in such sloppiness, most of it one grits ones teeth and passes over in interest of the story being served--a fascinating confection of betrayal, secrets, and revenge in multiple layers.

Diogenes and Aloysius Pendergast are brothers. Over the last two books Diogenes has been promising to commit the perfect crime to ultimately defeat his brother. Think Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft with Mycroft morphed into Moriarty. (In fact, the denouement is quite reminiscent of the scene at Reichenbach falls--only translate the falls to another location and the contestants to. . . oh well, that would be telling wouldn't it.

So Diogenes arranges for the curse on an Egyptian tomb opening in a New York museum to come to life.

Preston and Child are all about entertainment. There's absolutely nothing to be gained from reading these books in the way of knowledge, information, or insight into the human spirit. But they are full of eccentric characters, chase scenes, jailbreaks, madness, mayhem, revenge, and the most bizarre and eccentric devices you can begin to imagine. I tolerate the prose for the sheer romp that is the story. And I have no qualms in recommending this for all who love fiction and need a brain break from the serious prose one usually peruses. But you may want to read Cabinet of Curiousities, Brimstone, and Dance of Death to give you a little background before you launch in. You needn't, of course, but it helps to flesh out what is happening in this book.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 4, 2006 6:43 AM.

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