Monday, September 01, 2008

Book: Still Life With Crows

I had a panicky few days there where I didn't have anything to read. A house full of books and nothing to read. It was awful. Then yesterday Terri brought home this book from the library for me, and my prayers were answered: a fun, quick, engrossing summer read with a bit of darkness to it... just in time for the R.I.P. challenge!

I have read two other books by these authors, The Relic and Reliquary. I really enjoyed the first one. The second one wasn't quite as enjoyable but still fun. However, Terri was right: I really liked Still Life With Crows. Featuring my new favorite FBI Agent, Aloysius Pendergast, this book was fun from page one.

Set in the stifling, muggy heat of Kansas in the summertime, the story features everything I like in a pure-entertainment read: good atmosphere, a strong sense of place, quirky characters (none of whom are too self-consciously quirky), interesting details, some weirdness around the edges, and just enough hints so that I could figure it out before the end, but not too far before the end.

It's late summer in small-town Medicine Creek, Kansas. Nothing much ever happens here, and less and less of that nothing happens every year, as people quit town for jobs elsewhere. It's a dying town. And soon, it's a dying town in earnest. Gruesome murders start happening, their victims splayed out in spooky tableaux. Could it be the ghosts from a Cheyenne massacre, years and years before? Is it a local, gone insane from the endless hot days? Or something darker, from the pit of the earth...

Well. Luckily for Medicine Creek, Agent Pendergast happens into town on 'vacation' and quickly insinuates himself into the case. Along with his 'assistant,' outcast goth-girl Corrie, mysteries are both solved and deepened, as the stakes get higher and higher.

Agent Pendergast is fabulous, I have to say. Extremely quirky, yet impenetrably perfect, his personality gets center stage in this tale and that's the best part of the book. I am so glad I still have some four or five Pendergast novels to get through becuase he is fun. Tall, thin, almost albino-like, he wears extremely expensive suits, has a taste for the finer things in life, and yet is almost machine-like in his efficient way of getting the job done and the mystery solved. Never pithy or predictable, simply quirky and coldly wonderful.

There were lots of angles to like about this book. First, I'm from a very small town, myself, and the small-town aspect really appealed to me. Also, the relationship between Pendergast and Corrie was particularly well-done. It was just right, and the helping hand (literally) he gives her at the end is a nice touch and felt very authentic. Also, the way the authors depicted small-town Kansas in the middle of an endless heat wave was very satisfying. I've never been to Kansas, but I could feel the overwhelming, dusty heat and see the endless fields of corn. I also enjoyed the caverns where the chase ends up and the scary other world under the fields.

As for the mysterious killer, ultimately that was sort of disappointing. I was strongly reminded of The Goonies as the chase went deeper into the caverns, a sad, confused creature at the center of it all. I was also reminded, creepily, of the movie Psycho in certain parts. Motherly love can be awfully twisted sometimes.

However, that should not deter you one single bit if you like creepy thrillers with quirky, satisfying characters. I really enjoyed this -- I pretty much read it in a single day. Fast, fun, and highly enjoyable.

And now, as seems to be my tendency, I'm afraid I'm on a tear of Preston/Child novels. I'm heading out of town this week and these are perfect travel novels, and I've got 4 to read. Yippee!

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