Brimstone By Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston

The suspense genre covers a lot of ground. BRIMSTONE falls into the territory occupied by John Saul, Peter Straub among others. This isn’t my favorite kind of book. On the other hand, I say that I don’t like lasagna, but there is anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

BRIMSTONE has the added feature of being written by two authors. This is fairly common in screenwriting; it’s a trend in novels that has been commented on by those more qualified than I am. I think Newt Gingrich does it; maybe you do it too. It’s distracting, because the authors have different styles.

The hidden gem in this novel is the fact that one of the characters believes he’s being cuckholded by an RV salesman in British Columbia; this makes the entire story worth reading.

BRIMSTONE is part of a series featuring an FBI agent named Pendergast. He solves crimes while being driven around in a vintage Rolls by a chauffeur named Proctor. Here’s an excerpt: “I thought your piece in the recent Journal of Forensics on the maturation rate of blowfly larvae in the human cadaver to be really fine reading.”

Pendergast addresses this remark to a pathologist named Dr. Dienphong.

Here’s what’s happening. Wealthy and unpleasant people are dying through a unique kind of spontaneous combustion.

The Prime Suspect? Lucifer.

The novel is written through multiple point of view characters, including some of the victims. These highly unsympathetic characters are set pieces for the evolving mystery of how people are meeting their untimely end. The devil appears to be collecting on his end of the Faustian bargain.

Pendergast engages Count Fosco, an opera buff, art collector and a reasonable personification of Mephistopheles. Fosco owns an original Vermeer no one knew existed; they banter about art and music and Florentine architecture.

It should be noted, as the authors do, that Count Fosco was a character in Wilkie Collins’ novel, THE WOMAN IN WHITE. They ‘purloined’ the character from Collins.

Series character Vincent D’Agosto is the everyman figure. Separated from his wife and son, he’s landed a sergeant’s job with Southampton PD. D’Agosto hates his life; he wants back on the NYPD. A romance flourishes with NYPD Captain Laura Hayward, while in British Columbia the RV salesman lurks. D’Agosto survives an assassination attempt on Riverside Drive in one of the book’s better scenes.

The novel moves to Tuscany and the slums of Florence as suspicion falls on Locke Bullard, an American industrialist playing footsie with the Chinese. Pendergast and D’Agosto are caught at a secret lab in the slums of Florence; they escape in the prelude to the final scenes.

The scenes in Italy reveal an interesting idea at the novel’s core. BRIMSTONE is a fun read despite a bloated cast of secondary characters, serious overwriting and subplots that appear without warning. The heart of the novel, the murders and the motive of the killer, is compelling. The formula of including all of the series characters is distracting; Laura Hayward is a good character, but she doesn’t have enough to do on the main stage. The journalist and preacher sidebar threaded throughout is tedious. Even late in the novel Pendergast is dropping bombshells about a deranged brother named Diogenes; the authors clearly enjoyed Conan Doyle in their youth and this Sherlockian nemesis of intellect without morality is strongly reminiscent of Dr. Moriarity.

This is a commercial thriller complete with major research, a main character who translates Neapolitan dialect in his head, and plenty of references to places none of us will ever visit, like the billiard room at the New York Athletic Club. Other plot details include Pendergast’s mysterious ward, how to build a Stradivarius and a very cool yacht. A detailed view of Firenze and a trip to a Tuscan island add a dimension of erudition, but essentially BRIMSTONE is at its best when Pendergast and D’Agosta are engaged in crime-solving. Since they’re only doing this half the time with twice the number of writers, and have a character imported from THE WOMAN IN WHITE, you may wonder if the rest is filler.

Readers in Western Canada take note. Don Juan is on the loose and he’s driving a Winnebago.

1 Comment

  1. ok, i guess i got lost somewhere in the book–who was it at the end with one hazel eye and one blue eye?

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