Skip to main content

Crooked River: A Pendergast Novel


Crooked River: A Pendergast Novel

I have always been a highly observant person of the world around me. Some of this is due to the fact that I have been an actor since childhood, and part of that process includes being a “student of life” and using what you have seen, heard and experienced in creating or finding your characters. What always intrigued me --- and, in the back of my mind, seemed like the perfect impetus for a horror or sci-fi novel --- were the countless single discarded shoes that I would see along the side of various highways. This made me think: How did they get there, and who would get rid of one shoe? My mind would race to everything from alien abductions to other horrific causes. Unfortunately, my curiosity ended there, but those shoes always remained great fodder for a future story.

Well, not only did Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have similar thoughts, they actually based CROOKED RIVER on a series of bizarre events that took place in British Columbia in 2007. I subscribe to their email newsletter, and the latest edition talks about it in great detail. A young girl found an Adidas shoe washed up while beachcombing and was horrified to find a severed human foot inside it. But it didn't end there, and actually the foot count reached 15. Some of the feet were matches for those previously found, but, in most instances, miles apart from each other. It seems only natural that two masters of psychological thriller plotting combined with extensive research would tackle such an intriguing case. And who better to investigate it than the brilliantly enigmatic Agent Pendergast?

"The confrontation with those responsible for the horrors found within CROOKED RIVER is worth the price of admission, and Preston & Child find themselves with another surefire hit on their hands."

The primary mystery at the heart of this terrific installment in the series revolves around a complex answer to a simple question: “What could possibly make someone chop off their own foot?” Crooked River itself is set in the middle of the large, uninhabited Tate's Hell State Park in rural Florida. Setting the narrative in motion is a fictional incident inspired by the horrific events in British Columbia. In this telling, we find Ward Persall, a young boy who is enjoying his beach vacation with his family on Captiva Island in Florida. When a sneaker washes up with the surf, Ward picks it up. Upon further inspection, which is followed by his sister's shrieks, he finds the remains of a human foot still inside it.

Chief P. B. Perelman of the local police department is on-site almost immediately after the incident is reported. It will not be long until heavier hitters in law enforcement are called in --- especially when the one shoe leads to the discovery of many more, with a final count tallied at 92. FBI Assistant Director Walter Pickett knows that the right person for this type of case is none other than Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. Since this is the 19th Pendergast novel, loyal readers instantly will feel comfortable when their literary hero is back for another adventure. This one, however, will prove to be too much for him to handle alone.

Pendergast arrives with his ward, Constance Green, in tow and is eager to jump into what initially looks like the most horrific case he has ever been handed. A taskforce is put together, combining local law enforcement with other government agencies, including the FBI. Immediately the speculation begins in an attempt to try to understand how 92 shoes containing severed feet could become a reality. Some suggestions range from a doomsday cult to medical experimentation somewhere in Central America.

Meanwhile, there are additional plotlines. One involves the house that Pendergast and Constance decide to rent while they are investigating. The place, known locally as the Mortlach House, was the site of a bloody murder, and rumors of hauntings followed. There are also characters from prior novels in the series who play big roles here. One is feisty reporter Roger Smithback, who will get himself into some precarious situations with dangerous people in an effort to cover this baffling story. Another welcome return is Armstrong Coldmoon, a Native American FBI agent who worked on Pendergast’s previous case. They make a good team; Coldmoon is able to bring enthusiasm and a keen eye, which balances well with Pendergast's methodical and intellectual approach.

Chapter by chapter, we see this case move in several directions, and Pendergast will have to operate outside the boundaries of the law as he knows it. With that, of course, will come moments where he takes things a bit too far and lands in hot water. The confrontation with those responsible for the horrors found within CROOKED RIVER is worth the price of admission, and Preston & Child find themselves with another surefire hit on their hands.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 7, 2020

Crooked River: A Pendergast Novel
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

  • Publication Date: September 29, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538702967
  • ISBN-13: 9781538702963