Series Binge: Agent Pendergast

Hello to anyone who is still checking in here! Lots has been happening (I’m even on a library board now!). There will be plenty of time to catch up in the near future. For now, let’s just say this will still be my reading echo chamber- though I hope more of you will join with comments and change that.

Now, let’s jump right back in.

My former roommate raved for years about Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast series- specifically, the audiobooks. A couple months ago, I started listening and am now nearly through the series to date. Full disclose- some of the audiobooks were abridged.

The series follows the exploits of the eccentric, erudite Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast of the New Orleans FBI office. Few of his adventures take place in Crescent City though, as Agent Pendergast seems to have an arrangement with his employers as to what cases he chooses to investigate.

The Good:
Special Agent Pendergast. I am a fan of the PBS Mystery series Inspector Morse and at first read Pendergast reminded me of a young Morse- intelligent, diligent, but almost awkward in his interactions with others. There is something timeless about Pendergast, the only remaining heir to a wealthy family, and he seems at times to be a throw back to the genteel Southern gentleman. His sharp intellect and cold logic often negate it though and his justice can be swift and cruel.
Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta Vinnie is the Watson to Agent Pendergast’s Sherlock in the truest sense. D’Agosta is the rough, reactionary counter to the smooth, cool Pendergast. At times he can be a little slow on the uptake, but Preston and Child (P&C) do a decent job making him a true partner when he shows up in the books.
The Cases The series starts with a truly supernatural mystery. All the cases are spooky and suspenseful, but no matter how creepy the case P&C are not afraid to show sometimes humans are frightening without any paranormal help. They also often feature some kind of historical thread with a creative mythology tying the past to whatever mysterious going-ons are occurring in the present.
René Auberjonois Auberjonois voices Pendergasts deep, mannered Southern drawl. Though he sometimes falters with women’s voices, he rises to the occasion with so many other voices- from D’Agosta’s Queens bark to dog howls. I almost never listen to abridged books, but Auberjonois only did them for the early part of the series so I broke my rule for his readings.

The Bad:
The Women P&C cannot write women characters competently. Reading this series with a year between each book it might not be as noticeable, but binging on them it becomes annoyingly so. Every female given any “screen time” in these only makes bad decisions, never learns from past experience, and is usually stubbornly questioning Pendergast’s plans. I like the character of Pendergast enough I tolerate this bad bit of writing, but it can be maddening.
Horror/Thriller The Agent Pendergast mysteries have not failed to have very original plots, but P&C can fall into the traps and tropes of genre as much as the next author(s).
The Trilogies There are two “trilogies” in the Pendergast series. One called the Diogenes Trilogy, which deals with Pendergast’s nemesis, his brother Diogenes. The other the Helen Trilogy, dealing with the mystery of his dead wife, Helen. The stories themselves are much better than I was led to believe, but they probably could have been two books each.

Where to Start:
The first in the series, Relic, does not feature Special Agent Pendergast very prominently (if you ever saw the movie, his character is not even in it). Same applies to the sequel, Reliquary. For this reason you can skip to the third book, Cabinet of Curiosities, where Agent Pendergast becomes the focal point of the series.

Final Judgement:
There are certainly some flaws in this series, but as a whole, these are overall clever, fun reads. With a lot of clever historical components involving famous figures like Arthur Conan Doyle and John James Audubon and suspenseful mysteries in the present, the annoyances can be ignored. The real appeal is Special Agent Pendergast himself, who P&C have kept a mystery, slowly revealing more about the enigmatic character as the series progresses. Surprisingly, I have not lost my patience with the slow reveal and look forward to more of his unusual exploits.

What do you think of the series? Have you read it? Added it to your “to read” list?

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