All she lacks is a certain seasoning of judgment: “White Fire” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Corrie here may rival you, one day – all she lacks is a certain seasoning of judgment.

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.



  1. becomingcliche

    That sounds like how I felt about Jim Butcher’s last book. It was spectacularly mediocre. Will I read the next one? Of course I wlll, but the whole time I will be praying it gets better.

    I have never heard of this series. How have I never heard of it?

    • lucysfootball

      Friend A. at work is reading those Butcher books, I think. He’s one of those “I have to finish the series! Even if it sucks! I AM INVESTED!” people. He makes me laugh.

      I don’t know if you’d like the series. It’s very gory and violent. If you’re ok with that, then I think you’d like it – well, the books at the beginning, anyway, until they get silly. And then you’d be so in love with Pendergast you’d HAVE to continue…so it’s a double-edged sword, I think!

  2. Charleen

    I liked this one a lot better than the last couple, if only because it was a fresh start. I really liked Fever Dream but then the rest of that trilogy didn’t do it for me. And Cemetery Dance (the one right before Fever Dream) I didn’t particularly like either.

    Oh, and I loved the Holmes stuff, I thought it was almost surprising they hadn’t worked in such an homage sooner, since Pendergast himself is so much like a (sort-of-)modern Holmes.

    But yeah… Corrie acts the way she has to act to advance the plot, and I had an inkling of how it would turn out well in advance (and then there’s that one thing that happens near the end, but doesn’t really happen… I didn’t know exactly how they’d explain it, but I knew it couldn’t have really happened). But dang it all, Pendergast is just so frickin’ awesome, and it’s so much fun to watch him work.

    Preston & Child started a new series a few years back, and when I read the first one I was SO disappointed because it was NOT Pendergast. Not that I thought it would be, but… you just have expectations, even if you don’t realize you have them, and their new main character didn’t even come close. Then when the second one came out, I re-read the first one, and it was actually better than I’d remembered (since no expectations this time). I haven’t heard anything about a third book though, so maybe they’ve given up on that.

    • lucysfootball

      You’re totally the person who reminds me when these come out. I’d miss them otherwise! Thank you!

      I agree with you – I was so over the last plotline, with the family stuff. I was glad this was somewhat of a standalone…I just wish it was better.

      I loved the Holmes and historic things with Doyle and Wilde (I ADORE Wilde, and was so pleased to see him here.)

      Isn’t it embarrassing that Corrie had to act ridiculous to advance the plot? That was so unlike her. And I’m with you – I KNEW that one thing couldn’t have happened, and I was embarrassed that Pendergast – PENDERGAST! – assumed it HAD happened. He would NEVER had jumped to a conclusion like that. I love that you love Pendergast as much as I do, though. He really is a brilliant character.

      I know someone who knows one of the authors. NO SERIOUSLY. It is the coolest. I jokingly told him, “Well, tell him I love the series, but it’s getting embarrassing, and to step it up” and he was like, “I’ll give you his email, you can tell him yourself” and I was like “ZOMG NO I WAS KIDDING I COULD NEVER.”

      • Charleen

        Ha! Too funny. Yeah, I don’t think I’d ever be able to tell an author something like that, true or not. You kind of wonder what they think about it, if they’re even aware of it… but I’d never come right out and ask.

        As for the family stuff, I will say that the books featuring Diogenes were some of my favorites in the series. Someone who’s just as brilliant as Pendergast but a complete sociopath… he’s so chilling, and watching the two of them battle it out was almost epic. But these latest developments… I think they were even more of a disappointment because I was hoping for that same magic and it didn’t even come close.

        • lucysfootball

          I also loved Diogenes (and I can’t remember her name…his crazy relative in the mental institution?) But, yeah, this latest “family” drama…so silly. He wasn’t even acting like himself. It kind of upset me.

    • lucysfootball

      You’re so welcome! I do have to say that, despite its faults, at least this one doesn’t concentrate on the nonsense of the last few books (which I won’t spoil in case anyone’s wanting to start the series, but if you read them, you’ll know what I’m talking about…)

      Pendergast’s great, isn’t he? I wish the books were as great as the character.

        • lucysfootball

          They made one into a movie…”Relic”…and cut Pendergast out. CUT HIM OUT! Heartbreaking. Maybe no one CAN play him? (Ahem. Benedict Cumberbatch. There. I solved it. He would be an EXCELLENT Pendergast.)

          • ellisnelson

            I saw Relic and couldn’t believe Pendergast wasn’t in it but I liked the actor they chose for D’Agosta. Sorry, not sure I see Cumberbatch as Pendergast probably because he does the Sherlock role so well. Still looking for my Pendergast.

  3. cynthiaw

    I’m the same way – I have too many books that I WANT to read to keep reading series that have jumped the shark. I didn’t read the last Sookie Stackhouse book and had checked out the last several from the library. Same with Harry Dresden – the last several came from the library and, while I forced myself to finish the previous one, this one is going back with only a chapter or two read. I gave up on Laurell Hamilton and the travesty that is now Anita Blake SEVERAL books ago.

    Others, like Sue Grafton’s alphabet series didn’t necessarily get BAD, I’m just OVER them. So… I’ve never read these, but I feel your pain. There have been a few characters that would keep me going, but they’re far and few between.

    • lucysfootball

      I think I might have given up on more series than I’ve finished. Part of that is because I never know when the next book comes out, but part of it is that there are very few series that really hold my attention, sadly. I guess I’m not a serial-fiction person? I am slowly but surely reading the most recent book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and will (sigh) keep reading this series, and eventually will read the rest of the Outlander series…but I don’t know if I can think of too many others I’m in the middle of I’ll continue.

      • cynthiaw

        I actually like to read series when they’re OVER – that way I can binge-read them. Even then, I still quit some of them if they start to bore me. Or exasperate me. Or they screw up the main character.

        • lucysfootball

          I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten anything that’s BEEN over. I started Harry Potter late in the game – three books in, I think? And Sookie, probably 2-3 books in. I know I read those silly Stephanie Plum novels when a bunch were out (but when the same plot started getting recycled over and over and OVER, I gave up on them.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s