I have eagerly awaited the release of the new Aloysius X.L. Pendergast installment, Cold Vengeance for a year. Let it be known at the outset, that Preston and Child have created a tense thriller to compliment the rest of the series. I will elaborate in a bit, but first, a diatribe that was initiated by George Lucas and The Empire Strikes Back.
The year was 1980 and I had just graduated college. I paid my $3 and sat with friends to watch this sequel to Star Wars. I was awed by the story and visual effects, which contained several huge surprises; Han Solo gets captured, Luke and Darth Vader duel and Luke loses a hand but gains a father. Then the credits started to roll. I remained firmly planted in my seat, not because of the sticky floor, but because I was waiting for the remainder of the movie.
“It’s the second part of a trilogy”, my friend said, as if this would alleviate my dissatisfaction. It did not. To this day I have not seen Return of the Jedi or the other three films, and will not, until I get a written apology from George Lucas and my three bucks back! This experience has made me suspicious toward the “middle child” of literary and cinematic trilogies.
The second tale of a predetermined trilogy must often struggle with an “identity crisis”. The elder book has set the stage and is lavished with praise while the youngest, last installment gets the attention with a satisfying conclusion but the middle story is often neglected and unfulfilled. While Cold Vengeance is the middle book of the Helen trilogy, Preston/Child had an earlier trio centering on Pendergast’s evil brother, Diogenes. That middle book, Dance of Death, was the best of a strong triad, so my hopes were elevated but unfortunately I came away thinking this book should be subtitled, The Pendergast Strikes Back .
Vengeance begins where Fever Dream ended with Pendergast investigating the death of his wife Helen. It opens with a bang in Scotland (literally), and eventually makes it back to New York where a large part of the action takes place. Returning are Vincent D’Agosta and now college student Corrie, from Still Life With Crows. The action is very intense and there are many scenes with authentic and sustained suspense. While revisiting the Vengeance for this blog, I appreciate it more the second time. Still, I did have that unsatisfied feeling at the conclusion, which I hadn’t felt with Dance of Death. Both novels leave you with cliffhanging endings but Dance seemed to be more of a complete work. I think part of the reason is that the conclusion, Book of the Dead, was already on the shelf. This time I must wait a year for the finale of the Helen Trilogy.
Cold Vengeance is a wonderful read as the summer winds down, provided you read Fever Dream first. Be warned that you will need to delay your immediate gratification since the conclusion, Return of the Pendergast is a year off.