After my last post, in which I slobbered all over Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee series, you must be wondering if you’ll need a tissue to read another droolingly uncritical post. Fear not; although I greatly enjoy reading these books they don’t give me quite the same thrill as the Ava Lee set. They are well-researched, well-written and loads of fun – and absolutely lurid – but for some reason the characters are not quite as compelling. If something bad happened to Ava Lee I’d be up in arms; if one of the characters in this series dies I don’t think I’ll be too traumatized.
There are actually several series out by this writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. One is one that features a plucky archaeologist, Nora Kelly, another features Gideon Crew, thief par extraordinaire, and there is a series starring Aloysius Pendergast, a lone-wolf FBI agent, and Nora Kelly also features in some of these. I haven’t read them all – there are a LOT of them, which is great, but I’m saving them for holidays as I’ve bought quite a few for my Kindle.
The first book I picked up is The Lost Island. This is the third book in the Gideon Crew series, so I quickly realized that I was missing some pieces. However, it was an enjoyable and escapist read even though I quickly realized I was arriving late in the game and I prefer to start at the beginning of series.
The premise is that there is an ancient map to a location that harbours the “lotos” eaten by the Greeks in Homer’s Odyssey. In the Odyssey, the lotos cures the Greeks of their ills and makes them feel mighty fine, to boot, if a bit sleepy and not inclined to continue on their journey. Odysseus is forced to battle drug addiction as well as a cyclops in order to get his crew back on the ship. The map to this island’s location is apparently hidden in the Book of Kells, obviously, so Gideon is commissioned to steal it, and then to go find the island, which is apparently in the Caribbean because we’re meant to believe that Odysseus spent 20 years going right across the Atlantic and back. Murder and mayhem and actual cyclopes ensue. It’s ridiculous but fun.
The key protagonists are of the courage = stupidity type, by which I mean that they freely do the sorts of things that the rest of us, preferring to make the Darwinian cut, avoid. So they can be counted upon to enter the spooky house/explore the spooky cave/go ashore the spooky island, etc. Well, if they didn’t, the plot would grind to a halt, so they may as well, but sometimes it really beggars belief. They’re smart smart people, doing dumb dumb stuff. But they prevail in the end and it’s all good, or mostly, anyway.
Another series features Aloysius Pendergast, who is an independently wealthy FBI agent from a New Orleans old-family background. Also, he’s so pale that people think he’s albino although he’s not. On one hand, he does conform to my hero standard: calm, very capable but not a showboat, witty but not a comedian, etc. But other than that, he breaks the mold; he’s odd and quirky and clearly has a lot of secrets. Also I can’t figure out if he’s meant to be sexy or not. Gideon Crew is definitely meant to be sexy, but Pendergast? Not sure. Anyway, I’m intrigued by this character and I’m quite interested in reading more in this series.
I’m breaking here to insert a paragraph about Pendergast in which it’s clear he’s meant to be extremely attractive. Possibly to a small segment of the population, maybe the segment that finds vampires irresistible? It’s from The Wheel of Darkness which I am reading right now, and this passage popped out at me today. Great timing!
As the man approached, Mayles took a second, longer look. He liked what he saw. The man was refined, aristocratic, and strikingly handsome; he was dressed in a splendid cutaway with an orchid boutonniere on his lapel. His face was shockingly pale, as if he were recovering from a deathly illness, and yet there was a hardness, a vitality, in his lithe frame and gray eyes that showed anything but physical weakness. His face was as finely chiseled as a Praxiteles marble. He moved through the crowd like a car threading its way across a set dining table.
The beholder is a snobbish cruise director, so I’m assuming he would be critical of any imperfection; therefore, Pendergast is meant to be sexy, if in a Twilight-ish fashion.
Small digression: I’m actually wondering why it’s important for the protagonist to be attractive. Who cares if Pendergast is a hottie or not? He’s smart and resourceful and shouldn’t be that good enough? I’ve been watching Foyle’s War, a British TV show which stars Michael Kitchen. I’ve been trying to find a picture but can’t find one that is ok to use so you’ll have to Google him. Anyway, he’s a middle-aged man, balding on top, and while nice-looking, fairly unremarkable. He’s definitely no hairy-chested man of action. Whenever there’s a scuffle he generally hops nimbly out of the way. But here’s the thing. His character is so appealing – laconic, sharp, polite, calm, yet very sensitive to others and clearly of the still-waters-run-deep type – that by the end of Season 1 I was finding him very attractive indeed. So it wasn’t necessary to use a stunningly handsome actor – the character is attractive in personality, which affects how he’s perceived physically. In real life this totally applies; it’s interesting to see it happen in film. Mind you, British TV and movies don’t seem to rely on the looks of its actors as much as American ones do.
Back to Preston and Child!
The authors clearly do a lot of research in order to give the ludicrous plots verisimilitude, and they do a good job making the incredible seem, well, credible. Well-researched details go a long way and add a lot of interest; I enjoy this feature of the Preston/Child novels. The plots move along briskly and the characters are sufficiently animated, clever and resourceful. If you have a beach vacation planned – or just need some awesome escapist material – this is very fun reading. If you’re a literary snob, you will scoff. However, if you are a literary snob you probably enjoy scoffing; therefore, these are books for everybody and I can recommend them unhesitatingly.
(I think this calls for a post on literary snobbery…..the film release of 50 Shades of Grey is upon us….)