Competence is sexy and silver-eyed Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is preternaturally competent. Preston’s and Child’s Fever Dream begins at sunset twelve years ago, at a camp of canvas tents in the African bush and becomes, with a stunning denouement in a Louisiana swamp, the best showcase of Pendergast’s talents by far.
Under the “emerald umbrellas” of musasa trees, with bourbon and ice in hand, Pendergast, relaxing with his wife of two years, Helen, is interrupted by an official demand for his expertise to track and dispatch a lion that attacked a tourist before dragging him, still screaming, into the bush. As the couple make their way to the distant safari camp where the attack occurred, it is apparent that the dependably aloof Special Agent is very much in love. Helen seems the perfect match for the enigmatic Pendergast; brilliant and beautiful with blue-and-violet eyes, she is a doctor with a treatment and research group called Doctors With Wings, an accomplished athlete, and a better shot than the agent himself. Her grisly and improbable death in a grove of fever trees while assisting her husband on this mission nearly undoes him. Twelve years later, a chance observation leads Pendergast to the horrifying realization that she was murdered and launches him into a single-minded quest to discover, and kill, anyone responsible.
Unlike a traditional FBI agent, Pendergast operates on his own schedule; with enormous family wealth and resources behind him, not to mention formidable mental and physical skills, he pretty much does what he wants. For this self-imposed mission, he enlists the assistance of an old friend, Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta of the NYPD. Convincing him to leave both his job and his girlfriend for an extended period of time, they embark on some continent-jumping fact-finding and uncover, not surprisingly, a much larger, complex conspiracy that embraces the disparate worlds of epidemiology and the art of John James Audubon, with Helen as their intersection. That D’Agosta would, even with passing reluctance, accede to Pendergast’s wishes astonishes and dismays his girlfriend, NYPD Captain Laura Hayward. However, circumstances eventually require her presence on the investigation, as well, where she is forced to appreciate, even enjoy, Pendergast’s unorthodox approach to detective work. At one tense moment, their lives as good as over, Pendergast leaps to Hayward’s defense with a split-second feat of precision anatomical dissection that had me open-mouthed in surprise and admiration. I had to spend a minute or two trying to ascertain, from what I remember of human anatomy, if such a thing could actually be accomplished and decided to simply add it to the list of skills that only Aloysius Pendergast could or would have mastered.
The Fever Dream Pendergast is tightly-focused and out-of-control (relatively speaking, of course). His devotion to Helen is a welcome revelation, adding a very human, very normal, dimension to a man whose previously known personal history seems drawn directly from a textbook on abnormal psychology. Audubon’s role in this mystery is fascinating; that the brilliant artist who compiled the seminal Birds of North America might owe his genius to an external agent approaches intriguing blasphemy. But it’s all in good fun and we are left with the promise that a new enemy has already made plans for Pendergast’s demise. My money’s on the impeccably dressed, silver-eyed Special Agent. What can I say? I like the guy.
An excerpt from this book and information on other publications from these authors can be found at their website.