I’ve been a huge fan of Agent Aloysius Pendergast ever since I caught the movie based on the first book—Relic. For that reason, I was willing to accept the digression into his personal quest to discover who murdered his wife in Fever Dream. His obsession with the matter is something not unexpected, given his nature, and the book itself at least offers an interesting medical thriller involving John James Audubon and parrots. If the cliffhanger ending was a bit less than effective for anyone who knows Pendergast, it was forgivable.
Unfortunately, in the continuation of that saga, there are so many contrivances to keep the story moving, many of them directly contradictory to what we know of our hero, that for established fans this is bound to be a disappointment. The problem is that discussing them in any detail will result in multiple spoilers, something I won’t do.
To begin with, we know Pendergast had to know going in that the trip to Scotland proposed by his brother-in-law was a trap, yet for some reason he wasn’t intelligent enough to wear the bulletproof vest he did remember to put on later in the book. To further complicate matters, the authors have reintroduced a character from one of the earlier books whose only reason for existence appears to be to get into trouble and, perhaps, giving us someone else to worry about until the next book comes out
Then there is the conclusion—one can’t call it an ending, since it’s another cliffhanger—which is clearly set up for precisely that purpose, and which requires behavior so totally out of character for even an average law enforcement officer that one is tempted to wonder if Pendergast has suffered severe brain damage as a result of his previous injuries.
This isn’t to say there aren’t good moments, and there are some great action scenes. Also, a surprise development introduced in Fever Dream receives another hint that all is not what it seems. Granted, that, too, was no doubt assumed by longtime fans. I suspect therein lies the problem with a long-term series—the faithful know the characters so well it’s all but impossible to convince them those characters will behave in a, well, non-characteristic manner.
Overall, although the underlying conspiracy theme of the book has potential, I’ve ceased to care what really happened to Helen Pendergast. As endearing as Pendergast’s search for his lost soul mate might be, it really doesn’t have enough meat to it to support three novels. One can only hope that the barely discernible suggestion she has some importance to the new conspiracy will evolve into something stronger. As it stands, she comes across as mostly a useful tool for keeping things moving.
As a writer, I can well imagine that after this many episodes in the Pendergast saga Preston and Child may be getting a little burned out. I noticed the same problem with F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, the last one of which suffered from the same problems exhibited by this book. Preston and Child released what will probably be the first in a new series that shows some potential, although I found the protagonist rather lacked the qualities that make for a character able to support a series. On the other hand, Gabriel does have lots of room to grow.
So, although fans of the series should probably read this one and probably will for the same reason I did, it definitely lacks the quality of the previous installments. I think we’re hoping that what now appear to be weaknesses in execution are, in fact, leading us in directions other than the ones we believe we’re going.