Review: “Brimstone,” Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Pros: Engrossing read with plenty of tense scenes
Cons: Some flat, stereotyped suspects
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A most unusual murder has occurred: a man appears to have been burned from the inside out. A print of a cloven hoof has been seared into the floor near him, and he had frantically called for a priest the night before. Did the devil come to claim his blackened soul? Or is something sinister yet all-too-human at play?

 

Brimstone is a novel of FBI Special Agent Pendergast–I’m not particularly familiar with the series as a whole, so I can’t compare it to other installments. Pendergast himself wasn’t the draw for me. Instead, I found the characters of Sergeant D’Agosta and Captain Hayward to be far more interesting and engrossing. Luckily their stories make up much of the book, and they have interesting chemistry together. I could definitely tell that I was missing details from previous novels, but enough information was provided to make this particular book fulfilling.

D’Agosta and Hayward are built on top of stereotypes, but they have enough added layers to make them interesting and fun. The same is true of a couple of other characters. Agent Pendergast, of course, is a bit of an enigma and host to an intriguing blend of disparate elements. Most of the rest of the characters, however, are pure, flat stereotypes and caricatures. It added a sour, cartoonish note to an otherwise interesting mix. There’s also an impassioned speech railing against critics delivered by a priest of all people, equating the the practice with sinning; it’s hard not to see this as the writers sticking a heavy hand into the text.

There’s a nice buildup that starts in mystery and intrigue, moves through bits of danger and tension, and finally ratchets up into bold action and sinister revelations. I got quite wrapped up in it, if pulled out slightly here and there by unlikely coincidences or Pendergast’s patented ability to (almost) always be two steps ahead of everyone else. He sometimes pulls information out of his ass in ways that beggar belief.

There are some very nicely-written passages in here. In particular there’s a preacher’s sermon that’s quite engaging, and I’m not easily pulled into such things.

Overall, while there were some ups and downs, I enjoyed Brimstone and look forward to reading more of the series.

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