Still Life with Crows” (2003) is “merely” a standalone Agent Pendergast novel, but it features the introduction of Corrie Swanson, the evocative cornfields and caves (!) of western Kansas, a looming storm and a monster even creepier than the “Relic” beast. It became my favorite Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child novel on my first read, and it still holds that status. In their eighth novel (and fourth starring the FBI agent), the masters click on all cylinders like Pendergast’s Rolls-Royce.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write what they know, which is no doubt why “Crooked River” (February, hardcover) is their second-straight book set in Florida, where Child now resides. However, Florida – or New York, or New Mexico, or Massachusetts, or Maine – probably wouldn’t hire the authors in public relations. “Crooked River” starts with the mystery of more than 100 severed feet washed ashore on the otherwise beautiful shell-laden beaches of Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. It’s such an off-the-wall happening that it remains compelling for hundreds of pages even as answers are slow to come.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child hit a turning point with their third Pendergast novel, “The Cabinet of Curiosities” (2002), their only book other than “Relic” to crack NPR’s list of the 100 best thrillers. This is where they embrace the FBI special agent – and other characters for that matter – as a character, not merely an entertaining personality who can make items appear from his coat like magic. They also effectively push the science fiction another notch, giving us a lot of scientific details but never losing sight of the incredibleness of a formula to extend the human lifespan.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child take their first excursion beyond the USA, and it’s a memorable one, in “The Ice Limit” (2000). When I think of frigid climates, I think of the Northern Hemisphere – unless it’s Antarctica itself – but the authors remind us that the southern tip of South America is not a pleasant place, especially in the July winter. It’s cold, windy, mountainous and uninhabited – yet patrolled by quasi-legal operators of the Chilean government.
Archaeologist Nora Kelly enters the pantheon of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s heroes in “Thunderhead” (1999), an early and still great example of their Southwestern mystery adventures. In 2019, she’d still be going strong in “Old Bones,” the first of a series marketed with Nora as the lead character. I picture her in my head like “Lost World: Jurassic Park”-era Julianne Moore.
Riptide” (1998) is one of the few Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child books to not feature characters who appear elsewhere, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Featuring coastal Maine (where Preston makes his home for part of the year), “Riptide” is an early P&C blend of medical mystery, geographical oddities, history lesson, codebreaking and treasure hunt.
Reliquary” (1997) is the second Pendergast novel from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and even though he again doesn’t show up until quite a ways into the book, the FBI agent plays a more central role than in “Relic.” It’s also the second New York Museum of Natural History novel, but while it does include some scenes in the grand building and features employees Margo Green and Dr. Frock, this sequel gets out into the city – and beneath it.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s second book together, “Mount Dragon” (1996), is a mix of harrowingly current (the threat of a virus that could cause a deadly pandemic) and outdated (an early example of a very intuitive, user-friendly website). They arguably pour too much into one novel; for example, the closing chase through the hot New Mexico desert touches upon thirst, the importance of watering your horses, Anasazi ruins and other issues they’d explore with more passion in “Thunderhead.”
Relic” (1995) is the book that launched the careers of authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and even after two decades’ worth of great mystery thrillers it’s still one of their best. “The Relic” (1997) is very much one of those movies that’s not as good as the book. But it’s not without value. It’s one of the first movies I saw in the theater when I started seriously getting into cinema, and even though I hadn’t rewatched it in 23 years, a lot of the imagery was stored in my mind.
As it did for many fans, “Relic” (1995) launched my appreciation for the books of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – both as a duo and as individual authors. I’ve devoured all of their fiction since their co-authored debut, and in some ways they have improved as writers, but always in the back of my mind was how good “Relic” was and how I’d like to re-read it. I had recalled it being better than Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World,” which came out the same year.