Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write the kind of relentlessly fun books that some people feel guilty for reading. They’re filled with improbable plots, out of this world characters and concepts that push the limits of plausibility. But they’re also firmly grounded in the heart and passion of good storytelling, and that makes all the difference.
Cold Vengeanceis just what the title suggests: a revenge story, but a revenge story layered with a search and sewn throughout with the seeds of mysterious shadows that will come to light in future books. It’s the kind of thing Preston and Child have gotten ridiculously good at over the course of the last five or six of their novels featuring preternaturally smart FBI Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast.
Picking up after the events of the last novel, Fever Dream (don’t worry, you can still follow it pretty well even if you didn’t catch that one), Cold Vengeance follows Pendergast as he attempts to prove that his wife Helen was never killed by a lion, as he always believed, but was murdered. After a near miss on a hunting trip in Scotland that sets him on the trail of a killer, Pendergast begins his journey for revenge, a worldwide chase that takes him from Scotland, to New York and to his ancestral home in Louisiana, and begins to reveal a conspiracy deeper than even he could have ever guessed.
The novel flits between the hunter (Pendergast) and the hunted, with occasional glimpses into the lives of Pendergast’s old pals Vincent D’Agosta and Corrie Swanson (a Pendergast collaborator from an earlier Preston and Child effort, Still Life with Crows) as they both attempt to help their determined friend and do a little digging of their own into the situation.
Cold Vengeance is a continuation of Preston and Child’s efforts to dig deeper into their favorite hero’s past, something that was kept hidden for several books, and which the character himself often avoided discussing. It’s a successful effort, in part because it offers a refreshing change from the Pendergast who traveled the world solving random crimes, but also because it gives a glimpse into a different side of the character. So many authors are content with letting their thriller heroes languish in the same existence over two dozen novels, holding themselves with same air of indestructibility or in over their head enthusiasm. Preston and Child are daring enough to roll the dice with a Pendergast consumed by his mission, driven by his desire to not only find vengeance, but to find the truth. His cool exterior begins to crack in this book, and even though it’s always fun to see everyone’s favorite Southern aristocrat crime solver be a snooty cracker of jokes, it’s both refreshing and surprising to see him in a darker mode.
Though the character is changing, the old Preston and Child fun is still there. The authors keep everything hurtling forward at a breathless pace, making this yet another of their books to keep you reading late into the night. And by the end, you’ll only want more.
Preston and Child’s books are seen by too many readers as a kind of guilty pleasure, as something they read to escape from more sensible books. But they shouldn’t be, because despite over the top concepts and superhuman characters, they’re still among the best thrillers you can find.