White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
384 pages; Grand Central Publishing; November 2013
I tend to abandon series.
I know, it’s probably a terrible trait. I know people who will stick to a series until its bitter end; I had friends who KNEW the Sookie Stackhouse series was terrible, near the end, but HAD to keep reading it, because they were invested. They’d started it, so they had to finish.
I am not this loyal. My to-be-read list is much too long. If I read the first book in a series, or the second, or the fourteenth, and it starts getting stale on me? I’m out. Not enough time in the world to keep reading garbage, especially not when there are so many GOOD books that are clamoring for my attention.
However, I keep reading the Pendergast series, even though they’ve gotten kind of weird and silly and have sincerely gone off the rails; the only explanation I can give is…well, Pendergast.
I have a huge old literary crush on the pale Southern FBI agent. I can’t not read a new Pendergast novel, even though they USED to be really good, and now weird things happen like relatives come out of the woodwork (sometimes literally) and Constance is very often not in attendance and Vinnie isn’t always there to play Pendergast’s Watson.
White Fire started strong. It actually started very much like Still Life with Crows, which was, and remains, my favorite Pendergast novel. But I really feel like this one was phoned in, in parts, and – I hate to say this – the series should probably come to an end before we have Pendergast grappling with a wendigo or something.
Corrie Swanson (Pendergast’s protégée, who has turned up here and there in other novels) is working on a junior-year research project in Colorado about some miners who were killed and eaten by a grizzly bear. Due to making some SINCERELY boneheaded mistakes – which she continues to make throughout the novel (I seriously started thinking we were going to find out Corrie had been accidentally ingesting some sort of stupidity pill) – she needs Pendergast’s help. He, of course, arrives, and we have the dueling plotlines of Corrie’s project and a series of murder/arsons that are happening in the town, along with a link to Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde.
It doesn’t sound bad. And it wasn’t TERRIBLE. The problems (among others) were:
- I guessed who the arsonist/murderer was the minute the character was introduced (and I’m awful at mysteries, so that’s a function of bad writing, not me being a smartypants)
- Corrie was being so unlike her character, and so flaky, I wanted to punch her in the uvula NUMEROUS times (lacking a “certain seasoning of judgment?” Nope. She was lacking ALL COMMON SENSE EVER.)
- I guessed the “twist” about halfway through; again, I’m horrible at mysteries, so this is the writing’s fault
- There was some animal cruelty. I know. I’m reading a book with murder in it and I’m freaking about animal cruelty. What can I say; I like animals more than people.
- There were lines like this – “Corrie laughed. Ted had a funny way about him.” I repeated that line in a vapid Valley-girl voice about fifteen times to amuse myself. This is not how Preston and Child write. WHAT IS HAPPENING.
It still kept me reading; as I said, huge Pendergast-crush, and I did want to know how it ended. I was invested enough for that. (Although I’d guessed that it was Mrs. White in the ballroom with the pipe wrench pretty early on…and I was right. NO, that’s not a spoiler. I promise. Sigh.)
I don’t know what to think, here. My guess? The joy’s gone out of writing these for Preston and Child, but they have this rabid fan-base…and they make money. So they keep cranking them out. And that makes me sad. If you can’t keep up the quality of the earlier books, just stop. You’re losing your good name, here, guys, and you’re making my Pendergast do things he TOTALLY wouldn’t do, based on the character you made him out to be in the first few novels. It’s off-putting.
That being said, will I read the next book that comes out in the series?
Yes. Yes, I will.
I am pretty helpless when faced with a literary crush. What can I tell you.