White Fire

"White Fire"
By: Douglas Preston
and Lincoln Child
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 368
Price: $27
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of other books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

"Brimstone," August 2004

"Dance of Death," June 2005

"The Book of the Dead," June 2006

"Two Graves," December 2012
Preston and Child talk about "Brimstone," August 2004
Preston and Child
Douglas Preston, left, and Lincoln Child

The official website for Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is loaded with interesting information about them and their books.

White Fire
Preston and Child turn out
another great Pendergast tale
From Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde to
former Goth Corrie Swanson, it's a fine, wild ride
November 30, 2013

"White Fire," a Pendergast mystery, is a return to high form for authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

It's right up there with their best, almost as good as "Still Life With Crows," my favorite in their series about the unusual FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast, of the New Orleans high class but often psychopathic Pendergasts.

Their last three, known as the Helen Trilogy, about Pendergast's wife, thought to have been killed by an African lion, never quite felt right to me. They were well written, as always, but I just didn't like the story line, and the overall tone of all three — "Fever Dream," "Cold Vengeance," and "Two Graves" — seemed off. And the perspective on Pendergast was not what worked in the earlier books.

The mix, the chemistry, of "White Fire" is much improved.

It starts with "Prologue: A True Story," about a meeting between Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde at a publisher's dinner in 1889. This is especially fun because Preston and Child have always been fond of Doyle's mysteries.

And such a meeting did take place, that much is recorded. Whether Wilde told Doyle a horrible tale of the American West is true or not is less clear.

But it makes for a fun opening and carrying conceit of this book — which, after leaving Doyle's face with "a perfect expression of revulsion and horror," moves to modern times and problems faced by Corrie Swanson, whom we first met in "Still Life With Crows."

"Gone were the purple hair, the piercings, the black leather jacket, the dark eye shadow and other Goth accoutrements."

Inside she's still a smart-ass rebel, but on the outside she is behaving well, as a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Struggling to find an acceptable thesis project, she comes across Doyle's diary, and its tale of that evening with Wilde, who had recounted the story of miners in the 1870s being eaten by a "grizzled" bear.

And the news that the Boot Hill where they had been buried was at that very moment being relocated in the historic town of Roaring Camp, Colorado, for another rich-people housing development.

She is soon on her way, to do a forensic study of the old bones for her thesis.

Meanwhile, her mentor, Pendergast, seems to still be in a kind of mope, in the South of France, mourning his lost wife, maybe missing another woman who had touched his heart in, I think, "Brimstone," and reading letters from his highly unusual ward, Constance, his biological heir (really, you just have to read the earlier books) and from Corrie, who is excited about her thesis project.

It's when she gets to Roaring Fork that the thrills really start to hit the fan.

The woman who runs the rich-people town doesn't want Corrie around, so Corrie has to sneak around to get a look at the old miners' bones, she makes an unsettling discovery, but is tossed in jail for trespassing.

Arsons and murders start happening, Pendergast rides in like the cavalry to save Corrie, and buried secrets about the town start to emerge, in the middle of a nasty blizzard.

It would be giving away too many fine surprises to say much more, except be advised that Corrie several times does dangerous things in a stupid manner. The first time, I was scared for her. After a while I thought, "Well, if she gets killed for behaving in this stupid, childish way, at least she'll be doing the gene pool a favor, and maybe she'll win a Darwin Award."

Because, as their fans know, Preston and Child don't hesitate to kill off even favorite characters.

It's a good read, and recommended.

By the way, the "White Fire" of the title has to do with snow and arson, I think, not the strain of marijuana.


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