The occasion of a new entry in the Agent Pendergast series comes with the knowledge that sleep will be forfeit. Two Graves, in addition to being the 12th book featuring Agent Aloysius Pendergast, is the third book of a trilogy about his wife, Helen, that starts with Fever Dream, reviewed here previously. All the questions are answered, the frayed ends drawn together, and, in light of several revelations, the stage set for what promises to be new adventures exploring the human soul’s capacity for both depravity and heroism. In the first part of the book, Pendergast’s demons come out to play as he frantically (make that doggedly; Pendergast doesn’t do frantic) pursues the people responsible for kidnapping his wife just minutes after he is reunited with her. In the earlier books, he has always appeared as an impeccably tailored machine: his slim frame is surprisingly strong, he has a supernatural facility for opening locks, the breadth of his knowledge is staggering (his mental faculties so well trained that he can recreate people and explore familiar terrain with a little focused concentration), his skin pale, his eyes silver, his manner aloof, his wallet bottomless. He appears suddenly and silently and has a tendency to glide away. We have become familiar with his background and contradictions but now the pale man in the dark suit, fighting against the evil in the world as he controls the darkness in himself, reveals his very human weaknesses. The effect is as disconcerting as the man.
As always when reading a Pendergast mystery, I take note of new vocabulary and fresh usage. I love to be sent rummaging for a dictionary; it doesn’t happen often and it is one of the features of this series, aside from the brilliantly improbable violence, I look forward to. There are wonderful descriptions: mountains “serrated” the horizon and there is a “warmthless” sun. To my vocabulary list, I have added “riprapped” (formed by chunks of concrete thrown together without order), “espagnolettes” (on a French window, a pair of rods extending above and below a knob mechanism that lock the window to the head and sill of its frame), “quirt” (a riding whip with a short handle and rawhide lash), and “nogging” (rough brick masonry used to fill an open framework). Though Two Graves is part of a series, acquaintance with the previous books is helpful but not required—Pendergast himself fills in the gaps as he puts the pieces together. In addition to Agent Pendergast’s private mission, Corrie Swanson, a young law enforcement-hopeful mentored by Pendergast, returns to complete her adventure; Dr. Felder, a criminal psychiatrist, sets about resolving his issues with Pendergast’s ward, Constance Greene; Detective Vincent D’Agosta suffers the insights and insults of his association with the agent in their pursuit of a serial killer; and Pendergast’s chauffeur, Proctor, is given a chance to showcase his formidable combat skills (as well as deliver the only humorous line in the book). Martin Short’s voice as a tooth fairy is in my head: “A hit. A palpable hit.”
On the authors’ website you will find discussions, interviews, pictures, and descriptions of all their joint and individual projects. On their Facebook fan page, there is a giveaway contest for a signed first edition of Relic (be still my heart—I want this badly), which is the first book in the Pendergast series and the title of the 1997 movie starring Penelope Ann Miller.