Sunday, March 26, 2017

March Marathon Reading - Final Rounds

As promised, here we are a week later with the final rounds of my March Marathon reading bracket featuring the works of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Before we continue, if you haven't seen part 1 of this bracket, check it out here or just scroll down below if on the home page.

Just a recap of where the bracket stands, at the quarterfinal round we have:

#1 Relic vs. #8 Brimstone/Dance of Death/The Book of the Dead
#4 Thunderhead vs. #12 White Fire
#3 Riptide vs. #11Cemetery Dance
#7 Still Life With Crows vs. #15 Crimson Shore

Also, if you want a refresher on the plots of the novels listed above, head to the link and check them out as I won't list them again. That leads me into the thing, this post will be very SPOILER heavy since I glossed around a lot of details in the previous post on purpose to not give too much away. Consider this a testimony if you are really interested in reading these books and want a little more information, or you have already read some of these books and know the details anyway.

So once again:



#1 Relic vs. #8 Brimstone/Dance of Death/The Book of the Dead

My takes: The trio that make up the Diogenes Trilogy is a great group of novels that let you know just how messed up Agent Pendergast's brother really is. I find the reason that Diogenes is so hell bent of getting 'revenge' on his brother quite chilling. Adding another level to my feelings for these books is that I have a brother and I like how I can connect, although my family is nowhere near the macabre nature of the Pendergast family.

The Book of the Dead, as I stated in the previous post is my favorite of the three and has its own dark story in addition to the continuation of Diogenes's grand scheme. This ultimately has a thrilling climax atop a volcano in Italy that is directly referenced in some of the later novels.

Relic, on the other hand, doesn't need any other novels to help complete its arc. I say this pretty much counting out its true sequel Reliquary, as I alluded to in the previous post. Since this was the first novel that the two authors had written together, it was obviously not planned out to have any additional parts, at least I don't think it was. This is different from the later works, including the Diogenes Trilogy that were purposely set up to be connected novels, although the authors state that they are also self contained stories.

Relic also created an original monster for the 'bad guy' of the book, and I find that the tipping point. The monster, known as Mbwun, is such a terrifying creature and seemingly unkillable in the book that the book keeps the pages turning until the end trying to find out what happens.

Winner: Relic, despite the dance with the Diogenes Trilogy, it moves on to the next round.

#4 Thunderhead vs. #12 White Fire

My takes: Thunderhead was one of those novels that pulled me in pretty early to the legends that were presented and the mythical monsters that protected the ancient Anasazi city hidden in the cliffs in the American southwest. Any time you can use local legends and myths into a riveting adventure, you are nailing it big time in my eyes.

I liken the creatures in this novel to the 'creatures' in the movie The Village in their style. Very creepy looking and you don't really know what they are (however in The Village, it is just the town elders). This whole book doesn't let you in on that secret until the very end, which in my opinion is what The Village should have done, but I won't go into too much detail about that.

Thunderhead is one of the couple novels that features many different characters than the Pendergast novels do, and I cared for almost all of them except for the couple that you felt early on were going to in some way try to compromise the expedition. This novel also features a strong female lead character, Nora Kelly, that not a lot of the other novels really have. A lot of the other novels have their share of supporting female characters that are very prominent, but never the main character as here (Pendergast is usually the main by far).

White Fire doesn't feature a supernatural creature, but instead puts its focus on a highly efficient arsonist that terrorizes the town in the book. White Fire is also one of those novels I just alluded to having a prominent female character, in Corrie Swanson (more on her later), but Pendergast still steals the show.

This is one of those novels that Pendergast goes off on his own to investigate a case just because he feels like it and it interests him, not that the FBI assigned it to him. These kinds of novels is where I think Preston & Child succeed the most in telling his stories as Pendergast is more willing to cross the line of ethical behavior to get what he wants, whether that is information or access to things. In these instances, you really get to see the cunning nature of the character and just how genius he is.

The ending to White Fire had me laughing for quite a bit after I finished it, as twisted as it was. At first it was shocking as you think that one of the main characters that you spent a lot of time getting to know had been killed rather unfortunately, but the twist caught me so off guard that I couldn't help but smile.

Winner: Thunderhead moves on to the semis due to the supernatural side that the story presented.

#3 Riptide vs. #11 Cemetery Dance

My takes: Riptide is one of those books that grabs your attention early by basically giving you the background history (fictionalized to a point) of the real life Oak Island legend, but also that the main characters brother is killed in fairly grotesque way by getting crushed in a trap on Ragged Island while exploring one of the caves. Think of it as he was a young Chester Copperpot in the Goonies who was smashed exploring caves for pirate treasure.

This literally happens in the first chapter of the book and sets up a level of tension from the get go. With all the engineering the team does on the island to try and uncover the Water Pit that holds the treasure, including the Sword of St. Michael, it is very interesting to try and figure out the mystery as to why the thing floods every time you try and excavate the chamber. The amount of architectural and encryption knowledge you gain from reading this book is astounding.

Also the sense that it feels like you are reading a Goonies novel, except all the characters are adults. This is one of the few novels that Preston & Child have written that all the characters that appear here are completely devoid in all the other books. I love that about this book in the sense that you have no idea what is going to happen to any of them. I feared multiple times that my favorites were about to get the axe, and that didn't stop the whole book.

Cemetery Dance, as I stated in the previous post, is one of the few books that legit scared me as I read it. As usual with most of Preston & Child's books, there is a murder at the beginning of the book that sets up the events that follow. This one was different in the sense that the murder at the beginning featured a well known character from not only Relic, but the other novels that followed, including Thunderhead. Bill Smithback, the writer from the two aforementioned novels, amongst others, was brutally murdered by a zombie and not only shocks you but makes your skin crawl.

The chilling nature of the novel continues throughout and you get to see parts of cultures you may not have been as familiar with, especially those that deal with voodoo beliefs and customs. Its very interesting to read about some of these, but also the ferocity of with Pendergast and D'Agosta (a very prominent NYPD detective in all the books) hunt down the killers to avenge their friend's death.

Winner: Riptide rolls on with its pirate lore despite the supernatural element Cemetery Dance provides.

#7 Still Life With Crows vs. #15 Crimson Shore

My takes: Still Life With Crows cuts close to home for me as I grew up with a corn field in my back yard in my small town I grew up in, and the first murder victim was found in a corn field and was splayed in a ritualistic fashion. It was a very gruesome description of the murder scene and the small town brought up local legend which naturally brought out Pendergast to the small Kansas town to investigate on his own accord.

This is one of those novels that features Pendergast going rogue so to speak, and in fact, is the nature of both of these novels. Crows was essentially one of the first to feature Pendergast leaving New York City to investigate some brutal murders and sets the bar for the rest to follow. I really enjoyed that this book tied in the Native American burial mounds that were located just outside of the town forming some mystical power that terrorizes the community.

This book also vividly described the brutal nature of the murders and really opened you eyes to the forensic knowledge that the two authors possess. You also meet young Corrie Swanson in this book, who would become a supporting character in a couple of the later novels. She's a goth child living in a small town, which means she is kind of an outcast, so Pendergast essentially hires her as a local guide and aide to help solve the crimes utilizing her knowledge of the people and the towns as a huge asset.

Crimson Shore is pretty similar to Crows in the sense that Pendergast goes to a small town to investigate a skeleton that was found walled in to the basement of a light tower. The person was bricked in while alive and set in motion a whole series of plot twists involving rare wine (hence the crimson part of the title), a murderous beast, and a coven of witches.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interconnectivity of the many plot elements and twists, and once again, how Pendergast manipulates the general populace to get what he wants. The creature in this is somewhat similar to what appears in Crows, but is a much more twisted story of how it came to be.

Winner: Still Life With Crows for the fact that it was the first to feature Pendergast branching out of NYC and that I felt a connection to the midwest locale of the novel's setting. And one thing I've learned, don't mess with Native American burial grounds as legends creep me out.

That gets us to the semifinal round that looks like this:

#1 Relic vs. #4 Thunderhead
#3 Riptide vs. #7 Still Life With Crows


#1 Relic vs. #4 Thunderhead

My takes: Thunderhead is essentially a much better sequel to Relic than Reliquary ever was, and the funny thing is that is was never even intended to be. The reason I say this is that Bill Smithback, the writer who essentially is said to have written the events of Relic (as a work of nonfiction), is the writer for the expedition to find the Anasazi city. He references the events of Relic, so therefore it kind of is a sequel to me.

Where Thunderhead is exciting is that it takes place in uncharted territory in canyons in the southwestern US, but I almost feel that the massive network of hallways and sub-basements of the Museum of Natural History could be scarier, especially at night, and with an unkown killer roaming them. Sure, in Thunderhead there are two creatures lurking in the shadows, stalking the expedition, but for the most part, the team isn't sure that they are being watched. Nora does encounter the beasts early on, but that is at her home, not in the canyonlands.

The scary thing about Relic is that everyone knows that there is some kind of killer in the museum, they know it usually attacks at night, and it also doesn't help that it seemingly is coinciding with their new exhibition entitled Superstition.

This is a really tough choice for me to make because both of these novels are so good and feature mystical creatures that you find out their true origins and it makes you think that it could actually happen to a point.

Winner: Relic, as its creature comes from the Amazon, and you truly could figure that not everything has been seen in the rain forest.

#Riptide vs. #7 Still Life With Crows

My takes: Riptide's pirate lore is up against Still Life's Native American lore and this is a tough one. It's also Goonies against my life in small town USA. Where Riptide separates itself from Crows is in the different characters and how connected you come to them. Riptide has really great character development with some characters going crazy in some instances to get the treasure. And I mean really crazy! So much so that he doesn't care that the treasure that they are about to uncover has the power to kill all of them, through scientific means that is actually feasible.

On the other hand, Crows separates itself from Riptide in its supernatural feeling. In the end though, you find out the killer has a sad story to his own, and it makes you almost feel terrible for the killer in the sense that he essentially has been a victim his entire life. The moment Pendergast uncovers the story behind the killer, you as the reader almost feel terrible for this person, but at the same time, you feel terror as this person goes absolutely nuts and shows an immense amount of blood lust that would put WarCraft's Fel Orcs to shame.

So in each of the books, there are certain aspects I like more than the other, but another reason Riptide really connects with me is that the main character, Malin Hatch, essentially is a person that I relate to the most in any of the books. Just his way of thinking, his feelings towards others, and his relationships with some of the other people in the book are all relatable to me. The only thing is that my brother hasn't died hunting for treasure with me!

Winner: Riptide just edges out Crows, because pirates! But also due to character development and interactions.


#1 Relic vs. #3 Riptide

My takes: Well here we are, the finals of the March Marathon reading bracket. Let me start by stating that both these novels, and in fact those in the semifinals, are all highly recommended reads by me. These two novels are two of my favorite books I have ever read and have read a couple times each.

I know Riptide has been taking out some of the other Pendergast novels that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but this time it has run up against the original. Pendergast shows up in Relic and you have no idea who this odd character is, but you slowly get to know his means and methods throughout, and by the end he is such an essential character that I'm not sure how the movie left him out.

The museum monster, Mbwun, is also such an iconic creature to me that it is hard to put my love for pirate lore above it. If there is one thing in life that I love more in fiction than terrifying creatures that come out of the Amazon rain forest, I don't know what it is. Growing up, this novel set the bar for every other book I have read. Yes, I have read all the classic novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness, The Jungle, The Great Gatsby, and tons of other classics, but most of them I read in English Class in school because I had to, not because I wanted to (Note: I loved Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and The Jungle despite how graphic and disgusting it is). With Relic, I wanted to read it, then read it again and again.

Riptide is one that I wasn't all that interested in reading at first when I was collecting the other works that I didn't have of Preston & Child, but it blew me away the first time I read it and it immediately jumped up my favorites list. Even though there has never been a Red Ned Ockham in all the pirates that have tales written about them, his backstory was so good that he should be recognized as one.

With all the twists that Riptide has, it doesn't have the ultimate twist that Relic has at the end. The plot twist at the end of that novel was shocking to me, and I'm sure every one else who has read it, that I had to put the book down and jump up and say, "Shut the hell up!" To this you can see where I'm headed with this.

Winner: Relic, gotta go with the first entry, the one that started it all.

So there you have it, I crown Relic as the best Preston & Child thriller, but honestly, they are all great, well Reliquary might be a little bit of a let down, but I highly recommend all of them. Especially those that made it to the quarterfinals. All of the novels that appear in this post I encourage any of you that love murder mysteries with splashes of supernatural or legends to read any of them as I know you will enjoy them.

If you do read them or have read them, let me know your thoughts! I would love to discuss some of these books with you! I know once Eddie finishes reading The Ice Limit, we are bound to discuss it on the podcast at some point, so feel free to read it or the others and join in on the conversation!

Thanks for reading,

Mike G.

P.S. Have to note that the museum monster fed on lysine, which always makes me think of Jurassic Park and how those dinosaur clones fed on that as well. But in a city of millions of people, you can't just put into effect the "Lysine Contingency" where all the animals are not provided with enzyme by the staff, so they slip into a coma and die. As so eloquently explained by Samuel L. Jackson.  ; )

Monday, March 20, 2017

March Marathon Reading! - Works of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Hello everyone!

It's March and now I'm finally around to type up a new blog post for the month as I've been traveling quite a bit. This month, since it is March, I figured I would make a list of 16 novels by my favorite authors, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and pit them head to head in a tournament, since that is what makes March so famous as it is.

If you aren't familiar with their works, this duo has written numerous New York Times Bestsellers and has created some iconic characters along the way. If you haven't ever read any of their books, I highly encourage you to do so. Their forte is creating murder mysteries that usually have some sort of supernatural element to them, but they also excel at creating adventure stories that have science behind them. They are in a way like what Michael Crichton used to be like, except they are more fictional than they are scientific, in which Crichton was heavily scientific in almost all his works.

I've talked a little bit about some of Preston & Child's books before on our podcast at the Daydream Instruction Manual. Here I will provide the plot synopsis as can be found at their website, and then elaborate on which one I think is the better novel. A couple items to note, first off, I have read all of the books that appear in this article. Second, you'll notice that a couple of them listed as trilogies. This is due to the fact that these novels are best read together, although they are not entirely needed to enjoy the novel by itself, but the events in them are pretty much directly linked. Third, my seeding is more of less the order in which the novels were released. So the #1 seed was the first book they released together.

So without further ado, let's begin!

Round 1

#1 Relic vs. #16 The Obsidian Chamber

Relic (1995)

 Author's Synopsis: "Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum's dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human...

But the museum's directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who--or what--is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?"

The Obsidian Chamber (2016)

After a harrowing, otherworldly confrontation on the shores of Exmouth, Massachussetts, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is missing, presumed dead.
Sick with grief, Pendergast's ward, Constance, retreats to her chambers beneath the family mansion at 891 Riverside Drive--only to be taken captive by a shadowy figure from the past.
Proctor, Pendergast's longtime bodyguard, springs to action, chasing Constance's kidnapper through cities, across oceans, and into wastelands unknown.
And by the time Proctor discovers the truth, a terrifying engine has stirred--and it may already be too late . . . "

My takes: Relic was the debut of the team of Preston & Child and they absolutely nailed it with their first entry. They mixed the murder mystery and horror of a monster perfectly and make it so you don't want to stop reading this book. They also introduce the character that is mentioned in the synopsis of The Obsidian Chamber, Special Agent Pendergast.

Pendergast, you will find, is the main character on almost all of the entries in this list, and to me is one of the most well-written characters ever. He is pretty much a genius and is the souther gentleman personified, yet he has a dark side to him that keeps you wanting to find out more about him.

Relic was also made into a blockbuster film, except in my opinion it was totally botched and was my main choice about what movie I would remake in the podcast that we talked about reboots. The movie was a huge disappointment as Pendergast was not even in the movie, yet he has a pretty crucial role to the story.

The Obsidian Chamber was a fun read as it brought back some characters that I had thought had their plot arcs in other books completed. But the way these authors reintroduce characters makes the hair stand on the back of your neck and messes with your mind. I really enjoyed how they twisted one of the major players in earlier books that had you second guessing everything you had ever known about the person. The climax of the book has you split about what you want to transpire, and completely shocks you with the outcome chosen.

Winner: Relic wins this hands down. The way Relic terrifies you from the start, where this creature somehow became a stowaway back from a lost expdition in the Amazon and starts killing people in a scary building, it is just awesome.

#8 Brimstone/Dance of Death/The Book of the Dead vs. #9 The Wheel of Darkness

Brimstone (2004)

Author's Synopsis: "Behind the gates of a fabulous Hamptons estate, FBI Special Agent Pendergast comes upon the carnage of a gruesome crime: one that recalls the legendary horrors that befall those who make a Faustian pact with the devil. Surrounded by the choking stench of brimstone, the smoldering remains of art critic Jeremy Grove are found in a locked, barricaded attic next to a hoofprint singed into the floorboards.

Unable to resist a case that defies all but supernatural logic, Pendergast reunites with police officers Vincent D'Agosta (Relic) and Laura Hayward (Reliquary) to search for a more earthly explanation. But their investigation soon takes them from the luxury estates of Long Island and penthouses of New York City to the crumbling, legend-shrouded castles of the Italian countryside, where thirty years ago four men conjured up something unspeakable. . ."

Dance of Death (2005)

Author's Synopsis: "Praised as a “ruthless descendant of Holmes” (Publishers Weekly), Agent Pendergast has become one of crime fiction’s most endearing characters. His greatest enemy is one who has stalked him all of his life, his cunning and diabolical brother Diogenes. And Diogenes has thrown down the gauntlet.

Now, several of the people closest to Pendergast are viciously murdered, and Pendergast is framed for the deeds. On the run from federal authorities, with only the help of his old friend NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, Pendergast must stop his brother. But how can he stop a man that is his intellectual equal--one who has had 20 years to plan the world’s most horrendous crime?"

The Book of the Dead (2006)

Author's Synopsis: "The New York Museum of Natural History receives their pilfered gem collection back...ground down to dust. Diogenes, the psychotic killer who stole them in Dance of Death, is throwing down the gauntlet to both the city and to his brother, FBI Agent Pendergast, who is currently incarcerated in a maximum security prison.

To quell the PR nightmare of the gem fiasco, the museum decides to reopen the Tomb of Senef. An astounding Egyptian temple, it was a popular museum exhibit until the 1930s, when it was quietly closed. But when the tomb is unsealed in preparation for its gala reopening, the killings--and whispers of an ancient curse--begin again. And the catastrophic opening itself sets the stage for the final battle between the two brothers: an epic clash from which only one will emerge alive."

The Wheel of Darkness (2007)

Author's Synopsis: " Pendergast has taken Constance Greene on a whirlwind Grand Tour, hoping to give her closure to recent unpleasant events, as well as a sense of the world that she's missed. They head to Tibet, where Pendergast intensively trained in martial arts and spiritual studies. At a remote monastery, they learn that a rare and dangerous artifact the monks have been guarding for generations has been mysteriously stolen. Pendergast agrees to take up the search.

The trail leads him and Constance to the maiden voyage of the Britannia, the world's largest and most luxurious passenger liner--and to an Atlantic crossing fraught with terror.."

My takes: So this matchup features the trio of novels known as the "Diogenes Trilogy" that almost all standalone on their own, but together are linked masterfully. The Wheel of Darkness is pretty much the sequel to the events of the Diogenes trilogy, but as the author's will tell you, all of their works can be read as their own entity.

Brimstone definitely gets you with a killer hook at the beginning, I remember it vividly, beginning to read this novel on a family vacation in 2005. From the start of the book, a person (as described in the synopsis) is found literally burnt to ashes with satanic symbols all around the home. It begins from the victim's perspective and is pretty gruesome. This sequence alone beats anything in The Wheel of Darkness for me, as The Wheel of Darkness has some cool moments in it, being on a Titanic type of ship one of them, but not even of the same terror that Brimstone alone has in it.

The Wheel of Darkness is a great follow to the trilogy as the main characters make direct references and perform actions based on the three. Pendergast also learns a technique that he uses often in the books that follow, but it isn't necessarily a requirement to read this book.

But Dance of Death and The Book of the Dead are no slouches by any means. Of the three, I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Book of the Dead the most, not only because it features an Ancient Egyptian exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, but it more or less has a mummy wandering around killing people.

Dance of Death is very intriguing just based off of the level of detail of the crime committed in the story. You find out that Pendergast's brother Diogenes is as equally a mastermind as he is, and makes for an epic showdown of the two of them.

Winner: Brimstone/Dance of Death/The Book of the Dead wheels through to the next round.

#4 Thunderhead vs. #13 The Lost Island

Thunderhead (1999)

Author's Synopsis: "Archaeologist Nora Kelly is adrift in her career and her personal life when a violent, inexplicable incident leaves her in possession of a mysterious letter.

Written sixteen years before by her father, who vanished without a trace in the remote desert, the letter points to a mythical place hidden in the redrock canyon country of southwestern Utah: Quivira, a city of gold and wonder, the lost city of the Anasazi Indians.

Convinced that her father found Quivira before he disappeared, Nora puts together an expedition. Supported by the head of a well-funded archaeological institute, Nora will take a team up Lake Powell to the mouth of Serpentine Canyon.

What lies ahead in the harsh labyrinth of canyons and slickrock desert is more than she could ever have expected. It is the answer to both her greatest hopes and her deepest nightmares. For hidden in the shadows of the sunbaked cliffs are untold treasures; the answer to the greatest riddle of American archaeology--and implacable, suffocating death.

From the colossal fury of a savage desert storm to the sunlight penetrating a mass grave for the first time in a thousand years, THUNDERHEAD is a tale for anyone who has ever searched for clues to the past. It is an epic story of discovery, human deceit, and a desperate struggle for survival in a place that has guarded its extraordinary secret for centuries--and will not let go without a devastating fight."

The Lost Island (2014)

Author's Synopsis: "Gideon Crew--brilliant scientist, master thief--is living on borrowed time. When his mysterious employer, Eli Glinn, gives him an eyebrow-raising mission, he has no reason to refuse. Gideon's task: steal a page from the priceless Book of Kells, now on display in New York City and protected by unbreakable security.

Accomplishing the impossible, Gideon steals the parchment--only to learn that hidden beneath the gorgeously illuminated image is a treasure map dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks. As they ponder the strange map, they realize that the treasure it leads to is no ordinary fortune. It is something far more precious: an amazing discovery that could perhaps even save Gideon's life.

Together with his new partner, Amy, Gideon follows a trail of cryptic clues to an unknown island in a remote corner of the Caribbean Sea. There, off the hostile and desolate Mosquito Coast, the pair realize the extraordinary treasure they are hunting conceals an even greater shock-a revelation so profound that it may benefit the entire human race . . . if Gideon and Amy can survive."

My takes: This matchup features two novels that don't feature Agent Pendergast, but they are great reads. I just recently finished The Lost Island and I liked it a lot. The main character is Gideon Crew, and is described above by the authors, and is interesting in his own right. I love how the authors tie the New World to the Old World in this book, using a tale that everybody knows, Homer's Odyssey, to provide an interesting take on the ancient story. Intertwining it with the Book of Kells was fascinating. I couldn't put this book down and finished it in a bout a week.

Thunderhead though is one of those novels that you begin reading and never want it to end. Even though it follows Nora Kelly, another main character that is in the book is a newspaper writer from New York City, Bill Smithback, that was introduced in Relic. Thunderhead takes place in the American Southwest and is an awesome ancient city/treasure hunting tale that also has mythical beasts hunting down members of the expedition and killing them. Every character is fleshed out amazingly well, and by the end of the book, you clearly know everyone's motives and fears.

Winner: Thunderhead makes The Lost Island get lost in the shuffle

#5 The Ice Limit vs. #12 White Fire

The Ice Limit (2000)

Author's Synopsis: "On a desolate island off the southern coast of Chile, an incredible discovery is made: a gigantic meteorite, the largest ever found, entombed in the earth for millions of years.

Half a world away, billionaire entrepreneur Palmer Lloyd decides he must have it as the centerpiece of his grandiose new museum. He is willing to pay any price--in dollars and in lives. Getting it back to New York poses a particular challenge: It will be the heaviest object ever moved by humankind.

Fueled by Lloyd’s money, an audacious expedition takes shape. Disguising a state-of-the-art ship as a rusted freighter, the expedition secretly heads southward with a fail-safe plan to steal the meteorite from Chile. Leading the group is an inscrutable engineer hired by Lloyd, and a world-famous meteorite hunter whose career was shattered by a controversial theory.

Soon, along the icy rim of Antarctica, in the grip of a frozen hell, the adventurers are confronted with a terrifying enigma about the origin--and nature--of the meteorite. It is a mystery they must solve--if they are to escape with their lives."

White Fire (2013)

Author's Synopsis: "Corrie Swanson sets out to solve a long-forgotten mystery. In 1876, in a remote mining camp called Roaring Fork in the Colorado Rockies, several miners were killed in devastating grizzly bear attacks. Now the town has become an exclusive ski resort and its historic cemetery has been dug up to make way for development.

Corrie has arranged to examine the remains of the dead miners. But in doing so she makes a shocking discovery that threatens the resort's very existence. The town's leaders, trying to stop her from exposing their community's dark and bloody past, arrest and jail her.

Special Agent Pendergast of the FBI arrives to help--just as a series of brutal arson attacks on multimillion dollar homes terrify the town and drive away tourists.

Drawn irresistibly into the investigation, Pendergast discovers an unlikely secret in Roaring Fork's past, connecting the resort to a chance meeting between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. With the town under siege, and Corrie's life in desperate danger, Pendergast must solve the riddle of the past... before the town of the present goes up in flames."

My takes: The Ice Limit is a very popular read among many avid readers of Preston & Child, and for good reason. I admit I couldn't put it down and found it interesting to read about meteorites, something that I wasn't all that knowledgeable about beforehand. It also centers around a great feat of engineering by a man named Eli Glinn who owns his own firm named Effective Engineering Solutions. His engineering though focuses on how things will fail so that they know what not to do so they do not commit the same errors.

If you are a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, then White Fire is for you. The way Preston & Child integrate some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works into this novel is amazing. I'm a big fan of Holmes and when I first started reading this book, I wasn't sure where it was going or what it had to do with the plot, but man do the authors put it all together. I love the ending to this book, as it is not only shocking, but I found a great deal of humor in it.

Winner: White Fire, here is the first 'upset' if you will. If you bring Sherlock Holmes into something, it better be good, and this book was great.

#6 The Cabinet of Curiosities vs. #11 Cemetery Dance

The Cabinet of Curiosities (2002)

Author's Synopsis: "In the 19th century, New Yorkers flocked to collections of strange and grotesque oddities called "cabinets of curiosities." Now, in lower Manhattan, a modern apartment tower is slated to rise on the site of one of the old cabinets. Yet when the excavators break into a basement, they uncover a charnel pit of horror: the remains of thirty-six people murdered and gruesomely dismembered over 130 years ago by an unknown serial killer.

In the aftermath, FBI Special Agent Pendergast and museum archaeologist Nora Kelly embark on an investigation that unearths the faint whisper of a mysterious doctor who once roamed the city, carrying out medical experiments on living human beings. But just as Nora and Pendergast begin to unravel the clues to the century-old killings, a fresh spree of murder and surgical mutilation erupts around them. . . and New York City is awash in terror."

Cemetery Dance (2009)

Author's Synopsis: "William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife Nora Kelly, a Museum of Natural History archaeologist, are brutally attacked in their apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Eyewitnesses claim, and the security camera confirms, that the assailant was their strange, sinister neighbor-a man who, by all reports, was already dead and buried weeks earlier.

While Captain Laura Hayward leads the official investigation, Pendergast and Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta undertake their own private-and decidedly unorthodox-quest for the truth. Their serpentine journey takes them to an enclave of Manhattan they never imagined could exist: a secretive, reclusive cult of Obeah and vodou which no outsiders have ever survived."

My takes: Looking back on it now, The Cabinet of Curiosities seems like it is a set up to almost every single novel that has come after it. Sure, Relic was the one that started it all, but many of the recurring characters appear in this book. Nora Kelly makes a reappearance, but this novel introduces the enigmatic Constance Greene who is a staple of all Pendergast novels to come. The history of cabinets in New York are fascinating to read in this book and learning of the terrible experiments Enoch Leng performed on people is absolutely chilling. I also feel like it is a good look at how some developers go to great lengths to get what they want.

I will admit this, Cemetery Dance might be the only novel that I have read that scared me so much that I couldn't sleep that night upon reading some of it. I remember purchasing the book at Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Oregon (A signed copy no less!) and reading it at my grandpa's cousin's cabin on the Pacific coastline just south of Astoria. I was sleeping right next to the door, not kidding, I could open the door laying in bed, and when I got to one of the murder scenes, I serisouly couldn't sleep. If you love zombies, then this book is for you.

Winner: Cemetery Dance, it scared the bejeezus out of me and I can't forget that.

#3 Riptide vs. #14 Blue Labyrinth

Riptide (1998)

Author's Synopsis: "For generations, treasure hunters have tried to unlock the deadly puzzle known as the Water Pit: a labyrinth of shafts and tunnels that honeycomb the heart of a small island off the coast of Maine. Reputed to be the hiding place of pirate treasure, the Water Pit possesses an inexplicable ability to kill those who venture into it, from professionals to innocent explorers.

But now one man has made a startling discovery: the Water Pit is actually a carefully designed fortress, conceived for pirates by a renowned seventeenth-century architect who hid his plans in code. Unlocking the code will break the curse of the Water Pit. Or will it?

The most comprehensive, high-tech expedition ever assembled has come to Maine and to Dr. Malin Hatch, owner of the island. While the treasure hunters have their reasons for mounting this assault--$2 billion in gold--Hatch has his own motives to join them. For Hatch, whose brother died on the island thirty years before, the only escape from the curse is through the black swirling waters and bloodstained chambers of the Pit.

With more computing power than a small university, the recovery team slowly chips away at the mystery. But as the seekers try to conquer the Pit, men begin to die. And all the while, the last, secret chamber of the Pit waits to unleash the most lethal mystery of all..."

Blue Labyrinth (2014)

Author's Synopsis: "A long-buried family secret resurfaces when one of Aloysius Pendergast’s most implacable enemies shows up on his doorstep as a murdered corpse. The mystery has all the hallmarks of the perfect murder, save for an enigmatic clue: a piece of turquoise lodged in the stomach of the deceased. The gem leads Pendergast to an abandoned mine on the shore of California’s desolate Salton Sea, which in turn propels him on a journey of discovery deep into his family’s sinister past.

But Pendergast learns there is more at work than a ghastly episode of family history: he is soon stalked by a subtle killer bent on vengeance over an ancient transgression. In short order, Pendergast is caught in a wickedly clever plot, which will leave him stricken in mind and body…and may well end with his death."

My takes: Riptide is a rip-roaring adventure that doesn't quit! Ok, so no more playing on words for me. If you have ever heard of the Curse of Oak Island, then this book is for you. Preston & Child took that history of the real life continued search for the treasure of Oak Island (you can see it on History Channel as well) and turned it into a riveting story that blew my mind. Granted, they wrote this 20 (!) years ago I enjoyed almost everything about this book: the characters, the story, the history, everything.

Blue Labyrinth is definitely a labyrinth for your mind. The amount of inner workings of the murders and the plot is definitely thick. There are a number of novels that delve into the history of the Pendergast family and this is one of them.

Winner: Riptide rip-rolls (sorry, not sorry) into the next round.

#7 Still Life With Crows vs. #10 Fever Dream/Cold Vengeance/Two Graves

Still Life With Crows (2003)

Author's Synopsis: "A small town in Kansas, a series of grisly murders, and the depraved and hidden evil within. Enter the new American Gothic...

Medicine Creek, Kansas. In a town where nothing changes, where Main Street is a two-block stretch of old and dusty businesses, a peculiar and ghastly murder has taken place, the body mutilated and placed carefully in an elaborate tableau in the middle of the endless cornfields. Now cool-eyed and smooth FBI Agent Pendergast arrives to discover a community he must turn inside out to find the killer who can only be one of them..."

Fever Dream (2010)

Author's Synopsis: "At the old family manse in Louisiana, Special Agent Pendergast is putting to rest long-ignored possessions reminiscent of his wife Helen's tragic death, only to make a stunning-and dreadful-discovery.

Helen had been mauled by an unusually large and vicious lion while they were big game hunting in Africa. But now, Pendergast learns that her rifle-her only protection from the beast-had been deliberately loaded with blanks. Who could have wanted Helen dead...and why?

With Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta's assistance, Pendergast embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery of his wife's murder. It is a journey that sends him deep into her past, where he learns much that Helen herself had wished to keep hidden.

Helen Pendergast had nursed a secret obsession with the famed naturalist-painter John James Audubon, in particular a long-lost painting of his known as the Black Frame.

As Pendergast probes more deeply into the riddle-the answer to which is revealed in a night of shocking violence, deep in the Louisiana bayou-he finds himself faced with an even greater question: who was the woman he married?"

Cold Vengeance (2011)

Author's Synopsis: "Devastated by the discovery that his wife, Helen, was murdered, Special Agent Pendergast must have retribution. But revenge is not simple.

As he stalks his wife's betrayers-a chase that takes him from the wild moors of Scotland to the bustling streets of New York City and the darkest bayous of Louisiana-he is also forced to dig further into Helen's past. And he is stunned to learn that Helen may have been a collaborator in her own murder.

Peeling back the layers of deception, Pendergast realizes that the conspiracy is deeper, goes back generations, and is more monstrous than he could have ever imagined-and everything he's believed, everything he's trusted, everything he's understood . . . may be a horrific lie."

Two Graves (2012)

Author's Synopsis: "After his wife, Helen, is brazenly abducted before his eyes, Special Agent Pendergast furiously pursues the kidnappers, chasing them across the country and into Mexico. But then, things go terribly, tragically wrong; the kidnappers escape; and a shattered Pendergast retreats to his New York apartment and shuts out the world.

But when a string of bizarre murders erupts across several Manhattan hotels--perpetrated by a boy who seems to have an almost psychic ability to elude capture--NYPD Lieutenant D'Agosta asks his friend Pendergast for help. Reluctant at first, Pendergast soon discovers that the killings are a message from his wife's kidnappers. But why a message? And what does it mean?

When the kidnappers strike again at those closest to Pendergast, the FBI agent, filled anew with vengeful fury, sets out to track down and destroy those responsible. His journey takes him deep into the trackless forests of South America, where he ultimately finds himself face to face with an old evil that-rather than having been eradicated-is stirring anew... and with potentially world-altering consequences.

Confucius once said: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves." Pendergast is about to learn the hard way just how true those words still ring."

My takes: Despite being set in Kansas, Still Life With Crows might just as well be in Nebraska. The description of the town and surrounding area just screams what I grew up in out in small town Nebraska. I think this is why I identify with this book so much, but I also love the mystical nature of the murders. As with all of Preston & Child's books, you usually witness the murders through the eyes of the victims and this novel's scenes are straight up terrifying at times. The killer plays off of some straight up urban legend type of stuff, especially stuff in small towns you tell kids to scare the living daylights out of them.

The three novels that are tied together in this matchup are known as the "Helen Trilogy". Helen was Agent Pendergast's wife, and she was brutally killed by a lion while on safari in Africa. Or so you think... These three books pretty much have to be read in sequence and really get deep into Pendergast's relationship with his wife, unlike the Diogenes Trilogy that focused on his relationship with his brother. You end up finding out a lot about his in-laws in these books (which I've heard is scary enough for some of you married folk!), but also a new adversary that is just creepy as all get out.

Winner: Still Life With Crows. Honestly, even though I liked the Helen Trilogy, they are probably my three least favorite books by Preston & Child.

#2 Reliquary vs. #15 Crimson Shore

Reliquary (1998)

Author's Synopsis: "Hidden beneath Manhattan is a warren of tunnels, sewers, and galleries, mostly forgotten by those who walk the streets above. There lies the ultimate secret of the Museum Beast...

When two grotesquely deformed skeletons are found deep in the mud off the Manhattan shoreline, museum curator Margo Green is called in to aid the investigation. Margo must once again team up with police lieutenant D'Agosta and FBI agent Pendergast, as well as the brilliant Dr. Frock, to try and solve the puzzle. The trail soon leads deep underground, where they will face the awakening of a slumbering nightmare."

Crimson Shore (2015)

Author's Synopsis: "Special Agent Pendergast takes on a private case in Exmouth, Massachusetts—a quaint village on the coast north of Salem—to investigate the theft of a valuable wine collection. He travels to the seaside town with his ward, Constance Greene, where they quickly discover something far more sinister: a bricked-up niche in the wine cellar that holds the remains of a man, tortured and then entombed alive 150 years ago. But why?

The puzzle is compounded when they discover a freshly murdered body—covered with mysterious symbols—in the salt marshes behind Exmouth…the place where, legend has it, the real witches of Salem took refuge after fleeing the 1692 witch hunts."

My takes: Reliquary is, you guessed it, a sequel to Relic. I don't include it with Relic as I do the other trilogies on the list because I wasn't very satisfied with it. I felt that it wasn't anywhere close to the same vein as Relic was and just didn't enjoy it. The ending is a very good plot twist that I didn't see coming, but to me it didn't have the 'magic' that Relic had.

Now Crimson Shore on the other hand? Hoo boy was this a fun and interesting read. It delves into Salem witch trial kind of stuff, but there are many layers to the darkness. Just when you think you have it figured out, you are most likely wrong. The twists and turns in the dark in this book completely catch you off guard, and Preston & Child get back to what they do best, scare the crap out of you with seemingly mystical people or creatures. I loved this book so much that I nearly finished it in the 13 hour flight to Japan I had back in the winter of 2015.

Winner: Crimson Shore bloodies up Reliquary to move on to the quarters.

So there's the end of the first round and the Quarterfinals look like this:

#1 Relic vs. #8 Brimstone/Dance of Death/The Book of the Dead
#4 Thunderhead vs. #12 White Fire
#3 Riptide vs. #11 Cemetery Dance
#7 Still Life With Crows vs. #15 Crimson Shore

I will be back later in the week to go through the next rounds, and don't worry, I won't post all the synopses again! (Disclaimer again: All of the synopses come straight from the authors' website at

Also, just because I picked one over the other, don't take it as I don't think the book I didn't choose isn't good. They are all good! But like most things, different people like different things and I'm providing my opinion on the ones that I liked a little more than the other one(s). But in all reality, I challenge you readers to maybe read some of these books that I posted in here if some caught your interest and I would love to discuss with you your thoughts on them! I'm telling you, if you love murder mysteries with supernatural elements to them, you would love these books!

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Mike G.