Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Stradivarius, Brimstone And All That Good Stuff

The Sherlockian mantle is worn by few current sleuths as well as by Special Agent Pendergast, who perhaps redeems Holmes from his most well known criticism - an apathy towards women. The writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child delivers another tour de force with their latest book featuring Pendergast, Brimstone.

Aloysius Pendergast is a suave, well-bred and well-read Renaissance man, who is able to tie tenuous threads together to arrive at complex conclusions. His complex character is set off against Sergeant D'Agosta, a down-to-earth character, who, once roused, can be an effective, unstoppable force.

In brief, and without giving much of the complex plot away, Brimstone deals with the strange killings of some noted art critics, artists, and a producer - connected by some dark, long ago deeds. The devil, as in Satan himself, seems to be at work here, causing the pouring out in numbers of the freaks, end-of-days, millenarian types, and the resultant police problems. Agent Pendergast begins to investigate the murders and discovers a complex web of clues, ranging from a Chinese missile conspiracy to the secrets behind the best violin ever made by Stradivarius, and the death of the Italian violin virtuoso Toscanelli.

Apropos of criticism, the writers take a few sly digs at critics, as in
"...Criticism is a profession which allows one a certain license to be vicious outside the bounds of normal civilized behavior. .... There is no profession more ignoble than that of the critic - except perhaps that of the physician presiding at an execution"

"You're right there, " said D'Agosta with feeling, " Those can't do, teach, and those who can't teach, critique."

The mystery writing itself is impeccable, with a number of Mcguffins, locked room murders and brilliant deductions. Perhaps the book's only flaw is the authors' overlong emphasis on the inane subplot featuring a charismatic preacher, who in the end, is nothing more than a twobit shyster, and treated as thus, although he does provide some tense moments.

A few lesser characters are introduced, but not built upon. These will possibly feature in future novels featuring the new Dynamic Duo in mystery writing. Look out for the film version. The writing style often makes one believe that this is a screenplay, with convenient saves and glib dialog. This unfortunately mars the skilled writing and complex characterization of Agent Pendergast


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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader