3.5 stars out of 5
Reading about the adventures of FBI Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, always is a treat. This latest installment, though, doesn't quite measure up to its predecessors. The first two-thirds of the book is outstanding; thinking it was finished at that point, I said to myself, "Well done," only to discover that the plot veers off in another direction. That final part is where I lost interest; the whole scenario, which ended in a major cliffhanger that more than anything else smacked of future sales enticement somehow seemed disjointed and implausible even by Pendergast standards.
The adventure begins as the duo come to Exmouth, Massachusetts, to investigate the theft of a very expensive wine collection (Pendergast agrees to take the case only because he insisted that the client give him a bottle of extremely rare wine from a case that was left behind for a fee). Early on, they discover that the wine cellar has a much darker secret; a chamber hidden behind the wine racks in which a man was chained and most likely tortured many years ago (with a nod to Edgar Allen Poe). That discovery leads to another secret: That the fishing village harbors an even darker history that includes pillaging, covens of witches who escaped the 1692 trials in Salem and, of course, murder.
All that history might have remained the subject of conjecture, but then a newly murdered body - carved with demonic symbols, no less - is found in the salt marshes that leads Pendergast and Greene - a la Holmes and Watson - to start connecting dots to the past. That's followed by another body that's unearthed under similar circumstances, and the links to history turn even more sinister.
Along the way, readers get in-depth looks at the personalities of the main characters; and although much of their appeal is that they're quirky to say the least, they seem to veer off the deep end here. Tossing perfectly good lobster rolls in the trash simply because they couldn't figure out how to get them to their mouths? Prim, proper and disdainful of "modern" ways I understand, but for gosh sake, if they're intelligent enough to solve complex murders (and, presumably, are hungry), surely one of them could have dredged up the intestinal fortitude to ask for a fork.
Make no mistake, though, I'm still a fan of this series (and of the authors, both individually and as a team); Pendergast and Greene's eccentricities and peccadilloes in and of themselves are enough to keep the books on my must-read list.
Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, November 2015); 337 pp.