Well, it may be their fourteenth shot at it, but it is the first one I have read. It is stand-alone enough so that you really do not have to have read the previous 13, which is a good thing, because I don’t see me reading the previous offerings. There are enough references to bring the new readers into the loop, but not so many as to make their faithful readers yawn in boredom.
It stars one of those fictional paragons of virtue, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, and reads kind of like one of those books featuring the super duper independently wealthy detectives that populate detective fiction of the early 1900s. It was only the references to cell phones and other modern day technos that kept me grounded in the current time.
Pendergast was one of a tiny handful of practitioners of an esoteric mental discipline known as Chongg Ran, and one of only two masters of it outside of Tibet.
With years of training, extensive study, near-fanatical intellectual rigor, and a familiarity with other cerebral exercises such as those in Giordano Bruno’s Ars Memoriae, and the Line Levels of Consciousness described in the rare seventeenth-century chapbook by Alexandre Careem, Pendergast had developed the ability to place himself in a state of pure concentration, where he could merge in his mind thousands of separate facts, observations, suppositios, and hypotheses.
Of course he could.
So the story is: He has two grown sons whom he just found out about last year in Brazil, where he met them. In this book, he answers the door to his fabulous and tasteful mansion in the heart of the city (of course it is) to find a dead body propped up at the door. The body turns out to be one of his sons, the nasty one. The other son Pendergast has stowed secretly in a school or convent or something in Europe for the kid’s own safety.
So now the hunt is on for the killer of this young man. It brings up the fact that the Pendergast kabillions come from several generations ago when a forebear created some kind of Dr. Feelgood’s Magic Elixer, which was extremely efficacious right up until it started killing its users. Dang, that will really cut down on sales. All of this is tied into a plot by a descendant of one of those unlucky customers, who now wishes to slash and burn all the remaining Pendergasts.
All very complicated, all very unplausible (unplausible… is that a word? Let me check. Opps. Nope. It is IMplausible. What do you want from me? Do I look like a dictionary?) all very woo woo in spots, like where he goes to a dangerous Brazilian favela (that’s slum to you monolinquists) and is directed to a house where the wife and child of the now dead son died in an arson fire, and puts himself into the above-described mental state where he sees not only the past but the future. (I wonder if his government pay grade covers this?)
There is a lot about a museum and a skeleton that turns out to be not sebenty-lebenty years old but one that is relatively modern, museum-skeleton-wise, and how that ties in with the plot. There is the part where a very rare opal is discovered in the stomach of the dead young man, and S.A. Pendergast is able to have it traced to the EXACT MINE in California where it was found. (Of course, he was . Did you expect anything less?)
It was a fun read, but despite Special Agent Pendergast’s multitude of fans, I found it mostly ridiculous and over the top, because for me it felt more cartoonish than noir, despite all the gore and ick.