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Book Review: Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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This tenth book in the Pendergast series may divide the fan base somewhat because the scope of the book turns more internal and doesn’t immediately lock horns with one of those weird cases the FBI’s strangest agents gets caught up in. I know I was somewhat disappointed to learn that Helen Pendergast’s story was going to be revealed – at first. I hadn’t counted on the authors doing so and providing a lot of the pulpy goodness they’ve been supplying since the first book.

The scenes in Africa are enjoyable, and they made me want to read Preston and Child’s version of a big game hunter on safari in the Dark Continent. They capture the mood and atmosphere in a way that just swept my imagination along. The opening sequences, grim and foreboding and horrifying, move quickly and were actually shorter than I’d expected.

Then the real mystery begins when Pendergast discovers that his wife’s rifle was loaded with blanks and that the lion they were hunting when she died was trained to kill. But the story wouldn’t be right without historical strangeness thrown in that sounds like it could actually be true.

This time around, the strangeness comes around in the story of John James Audubon, the famed ornithologist who authored (and drew) Birds of America. When I was a kid, I had a passing acquaintance with Audubon and had even read a biography of him. Audubon just didn’t seem that interesting then. But now, even without the embellishments the authors throw in, I was fascinated by the man’s life. There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of challenges.

Preston and Child use Audubon’s history, as well as his stint in a mental hospital, and warp it into a great concoction that provides part of the mystery that propels Pendergast to action.

The back and forth pacing is good, and kept me turning the pages, but I wished the point of view had remained with Pendergast more. I don’t know why it didn’t. When Pendergast went to New York and recruited Vincent D’Agosta, the homicide lieutenant took over the show for a time, and Pendergast kind of faded. Then, after D’Agosta was taken off the gameboard, Captain Laura Hayward steps in to replace him, and the point of view shifts to her.

The pacing of the book is fantastic. Even when the authors are setting up history or setting or characters, the short, briskly written chapters charge forward. I ended up going past my allotted time for reading (and staying up late) each time I sat down with the novel.

The final sequences of the book are tense and spooky and unrelenting. Pendergast’s showdown with the man who ordered his wife’s murder is psychologically well done and well played, but it’s his revenge on the hunters and fishermen that jumped Hayward and him that really had me cheering.

The book has an obvious hook setting the sequel in place, and I really didn’t care for that. I think those chapters should have been used in the next book without putting them in this one. When the next book comes out, they’re going to have to cover the information about Constance Green (Pendergast’s ward) all over again. But I am curious about what’s going on and what will happen, which I’m sure was the authors’ intent.

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