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Still Life with Crows (Pendergast, Book 4) Hardcover – July 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

That FBI Special Agent Pendergast, one of the most charismatic thriller heroes in memory, dominates this latest novel from Preston/Child is the good news; that he's working the least interesting case of his literary career (other outings include The Cabinet of Curiosities and Reliquary) is the bad. An unusual serial killer is wreaking havoc in a small corn-growing town in Kansas; he leaves outlandish signatures, such as a mutilated body within a circle of crows on stakes and a ring of broken corn stalks. On his own initiative, Pendergast, no stranger to bizarre murders, shows up to investigate, and the authors make much hay from the contrast between the lean, infinitely refined and impossibly erudite Pendergast, a distinct descendant of Sherlock Holmes, and the down-home milieu he finds himself in. As if to emphasize his ancestry, the authors give Pendergast a Watson here: one Corrie Swanson, a rebellious, pierced and tattooed teenage girl whom he hires as his driver and guide. Further killings occur, which rumor and Pendergast tie to a 19th-century massacre of a band of outlaws by Indians. (As Pendergast explains to Corrie, he arrives at this conclusion through a "form of mental concentration, one of my own devising, which combines the memory palace with elements of Chongg Ran, an ancient Bhutanese form of meditation.") Not surprisingly, the relatively hick local cops don't like Pendergast, nor do the local politicians, who hope their town will be chosen for a lucrative experiment in genetically modified crops. When Corrie is dragged off to the killer's hideaway in a massive cave system, however, cops and Pendergast unite in an extended underground cat-and-mouse chase that will entertain readers despite their likely disappointment at the absurd, even ludicrous, identity of the villain. This may be minor Preston/Child, but it is major Pendergast; those for whom he's the cup of tea will drink deep.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The authors of such hits as Relic (1992) and The Cabinet of Curiosities [BKL Je 1 & 15 02] bring back Special Agent Pendergast, the FBI man whose slightly archaic dialogue, unique mode of dress, and seemingly endless array of esoteric facts make him a fascinating lead character. This time out Pendergast is in Medicine Creek, Kansas, a small town that appears to be home to its very own serial killer. The novel begins with a gruesome murder, after which we're introduced to wily Sheriff Dent Hazen, a man who doesn't take kindly to out-of-towners investigating crimes on his turf. Just as we're getting to know Hazen, the pace kicks into high gear, with more bodies and a full-tilt investigation. As usual, Preston and Child deftly mix the real and the surreal, creating an atmosphere in which everything, for reasons we can't quite nail down, seems a tad off-kilter. Call it creeping paranoia, perhaps, or the dreadful certainty that something awful is about to happen. Whatever you call it, it's a recipe for success. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; First Edition edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446531421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446531429
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (543 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on June 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child since "Relic", and during that time I have come to expect quality writing, great characters, tons of plot twists and bizarre, unexpected endings from them. Generally speaking, "Still Life With Crows" lives up to those expectations, but the ending unfortunately falls short, and the resolution leaves some troubling holes. That's not to say this is a bad novel, but fans of the authors may find that it doesn't quite live up to their expectations.
Set in a small town in Kansas, "Still Life With Crows" has a creepy vibe from the very beginning that the authors superbly develop over the first two hundred pages. All too often, novels set in small towns are replete with stereotypes that detract from the story. Preston and Child, however, have written their best characters yet as they capture the full spectrum of small town Americana. From the sheriff is a wonderfully complex character who brilliantly plays the part of a typical rural sheriff even as he masks a deeper, more thoughtful man, to the aging local newspaperman, who is no less sophisticated than his big city counterparts, the authors weave a tapestry that draws the reader in.
At the same time, Preston and Child exercise their considerable gifts for descriptive writing. Their ability to capture the still, oppressive heat of the plains and to imbue sprawling cornfields with a latent menace is admirable. Moreover, as the town of Medicine Creek falls prey to a murderous rampage, the authors create their most genuinely scary settings since "Relic". The murders are performed in an oddly ritualistic fashion that haunts the town even as they defy explanation by traditional means.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Marc Ruby™ HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the fourth book by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child in which FBI Special Agent Prendergast has played a special role. In the last book (The Cabinet of Curiosities) he has been promoted to a main character. Prendergast is an almost over-cultured southern gentleman who is almost a classic model of the aesthete. He has an irritating superciliousness and an unorthodox approach that inevitably puts him at odds with the powers that be.
In Still Life With Crows, an intriguing series of killings draws Prendergast to the little town of Medicine Creek, Kansas. The killings are bizarre - a dead woman arranged in a ring of valuable arrows, a dog killed just for its tail, disemboweled and stuffed corpses. Equally eerie are the towns old legends of the Curse of the Forty-fives - a story of a ghostly band of Indians that arose from nowhere and killed the white men who were hunting them.
Prendergast inserts himself in the investigation, drafting Corrie Swanson, the town's sole Goth and trouble-maker as his chauffer and assistant. An unlikely relationship that grows slowly as Corrie's suspicions relax, almost stealing center stage from the murders.
As they have done repeatedly, Preston and Child demonstrate excellent story-telling skills building both characters and tension, filling a plot with details, creating a horror story out of cornrows and stalactites. They do have one habitual flaw, though. By halfway through the book the reader can make an intelligent guess about the nature of the murderer. Identity and motive are still a mystery, but the writers simply drop too many hints. They try to make up for this by using the last 100 pages for a frantic, high tension pursuit, but some damage cannot be undone.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Without official sanctioning, FBI Special Agent Pendergast arrives in Medicine Creek, Kansas to investigate a serial killer leaving behind eerie signatures to include a mutilated corpse inside a circle of crows "nailed" to stakes. The elegant Pendergast seems like a polished apple among cornstalks as his urbane lifestyle clearly sticks out in this rural community.
He hires as his chauffeur and overall local guide rebel without a cause teenage girl Corrie Swanson, who also sticks out in the middle of the cornfields. Additional murders occur and Pendergast, using the Bhutanese meditation technique Chongg Ran, links them to a nineteenth century Indian massacre of outlaws. As the local law enforcement resent Pendergast's interference on the case, the killer abducts Corrie forcing Pendergast to follow into the cat's cave to try to rescue his local escort before she becomes the latest victim.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's tale is fun though STILL LIFE WITH CROWS seems like a weaker than usual entry. Pendergast is like a debonair modernized cross between Holmes and Flint with Corrie being his "Watsonette". The story line is crisp, but the killer seems unacceptable once Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs reveal the identity of the culprit. Fans of the series will appreciate the latest tale, but newcomers will be better suited to try previous works like THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES to obtain the full rich flavor of the tea.
Harriet Klausner
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Macdonald on June 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed "Still Life With Crows" more than "A Cabinet of Curiosities" but not as much as "Relic". It is a fast, fun read. Special Agent Pendergast is back and in fine form. There's a new locale, but with plenty of allusions to past Preston and Child novels. The book has some very graphic descriptions in it of gruesome murders, but other than that it's a fine mystery. I think we can look forward to another Pendergast book soon, judging by the side story with Wren and the cabinet of curiosities.
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