Review

Still Life With Crows

by Douglas Preston

STILL LIFE WITH CROWS transports readers to the cornfields of
Medicine Creek, Kansas as it bakes in the fiery heat of the dusty
month of August. In a mysteriously cleared section of a field
"…the broken stalks carefully stacked to one side, leaving an
area of dirt clods and stubble perhaps forty feet in diameter
… [the sheriff] found himself marveling at the geometric
precision" of the site. Surrounded by what looked like a
ritualistic array of bizarre artifacts laid a mutilated body that
had been so grossly and sadistically defiled that the sheriff
merely guessed the corpse was that of a woman.

This savage act is the first homicide in this backwater, dying
little town since 1931. Not only is it a horrendous killing, it is
stylized to resemble rituals ascribed to local myths and old
legends attributed to the Native Americans who inhabited that land
long ago. And the self-important, bombastic, thoroughly
narrow-minded sheriff is too ornery to admit he is in over his
head. While blustering his way through a news conference the
morning after the hideous remains were found, " … [his] voice
faltered as the figure [of a man] in black [approached the group
and spoke], his voice wasn't loud, [but it had the 'mellifluous
accent of the deepest South' and] somehow it seemed to dominate the
crowd." He is a stranger and immediately falls under
suspicion.

An opening like this is a real hooker. How can a reader resist?
Shades of the gothic novel, shadows of horror fiction, and double
doses of suspense are the elements that hold this story together.
The crimes committed in this book are far from ordinary. The town
and its people are depicted in raw detail with all of their flaws
and endearing qualities, if they have any. Kansas, like many
states, has its share of Native American legends, stories of
bootleg whiskey and battles lost or won, but how could any of these
have a link to "the inexplicable movements of a serial killer" in
the twenty-first century? Of course, many books that take place in
small rural towns populated with inbred residents sometimes take on
a seamy quality, but STILL LIFE WITH CROWS escapes this flaw
because it rises above the ordinary even as it closes in on the
killer.

As it happens, the man in the black worsted suit is an FBI agent
named Pendergast, who has appeared in other Preston-Child
collaborations. He is a modern day Holmesian-like sleuth with an
astounding memory and the amazing ability to rattle off arcane
facts just as easily as he takes care of ordinary common sense
business. We don't learn much about him … and readers may
find themselves asking at the end of the book, "Who was that man
dressed in black?"

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child each have successful writing
careers as solo artists, but when they put their heads together to
create a novel, the result is usually a four-star event. These
writers know their stuff and don't hold back when it comes to
limning the depravity of those who would kill or the qualities that
make people good. They let readers wander the landscape of the plot
and examine a clue here or a bit of "inside" information there
… and this makes reading their books fun.

STILL LIFE WITH CROWS is a terrific whodunit and a page-turner that
takes readers on a strange trip through a part of America that is
slowly dying out. Fans of the suspense/horror/thriller genre(s)
will find themselves thoroughly captivated. Enjoy!

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011

Still Life With Crows
by Douglas Preston

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446612766
  • ISBN-13: 9780446612760