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:


SPOILERS!!!!!

Quarterfinals

#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

Semifinals

#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.


Finals

#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.  ; )

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