Skip to main content

Verses for the Dead: A Pendergast Novel


Verses for the Dead: A Pendergast Novel

VERSES FOR THE DEAD is the 18th installment in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Agent Pendergast series. However, it practically could be considered a stand-alone release as we are without the presence of Detective Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta of the NYPD, a frequent partner of A. X. L. Pendergast. Nor is there any reference to Pendergast's brother, who has tormented him for many novels, almost like the Moriarty to his Sherlock Holmes.

This latest title represents a new step in the Pendergast saga, as a handful of new characters make a large impact. The first is Assistant Director in Charge Walter Pickett, who is the new leader of Pendergast’s FBI division. Pendergast is teamed with a partner, junior agent Coldmoon, a young man of primarily Native American descent. The two are assigned to what appears to be a serial murder case in Miami, Florida.

A woman named Isabella Guerrero is making her way through the Bayside Cemetery that is set within the shadow of downtown Miami. She is there with her little dog Twinkle to pay her respects to a friend who has passed. But she gets far more than she bargained for when Twinkle digs out something that was placed on a gravesite. When she eventually wrests the item away from the pooch’s muzzle, she is overcome with shock and a wave of unreality as she recognizes it to be a human heart.

"VERSES FOR THE DEAD is classic Preston & Child, full of complex characters, plot twists and storylines that border on supernatural or otherworldly elements."

Thus begins Pendergast and Coldmoon’s investigation, which the Miami PD has named the Mister Brokenhearts case. Readers unfamiliar with Pendergast's behavior and mode of detection will soon recognize that his methods are usually unorthodox but almost always successful. This is a problem for Pickett, a by-the-books type who cannot tolerate insubordination of any kind. Pickett has promised Coldmoon a promotion if he reports back on Pendergast's every move and helps bring him down, ultimately transferring him to another division of the FBI.

Pendergast's methods are not very different from those of Sherlock Holmes. Members of the Miami PD are not at all happy that the FBI is sticking its nose in a case that they feel they have control of, and it shows in each of their demeanors when confronted by the FBI. When Pendergast is denied access to the crime scene in the cemetery by a stubborn member of the Miami PD, he begins to dress the officer down by revealing everything about the man purely by looking at him. Upon finishing, Pendergast refers to his little trick by stating that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got it all wrong --- what Holmes was actually doing was using the process of induction rather than deduction.

Pendergast sees his role in the case as that of finding the connection between the actions of Mister Brokenhearts and the victims whose hearts he cuts out. He also does not believe that the gravesites are being chosen at random and decides to follow a line of inquiry that finds him traveling around to different parts of the country with Coldmoon to reinvestigate the deaths of the deceased that had hearts set upon their final resting places. Pendergast is troubled by the Miami PD and local news media referring to the killer as a sociopath. He does not feel that a sociopath would take the time to slit the victims’ throats prior to cutting their hearts out, which almost can be seen as an act of mercy. It also seems out of character for a sociopath to leave a note at each gravesite, often quoting famous literary passages. It is this fact that he confidently feels will set him in the right direction to identifying and catching Brokenhearts.

It appears that the gravesites chosen by the killer were all allegedly suicide victims. Further investigation by Pendergast and Coldmoon --- much to the dismay of Pickett, who does not authorize the many trips they make around the country --- shows that some of these deaths may have been homicides made to look like suicides. If that is indeed the case, then Brokenhearts may have a more direct connection to one of the victims, or at least suffered a similar heartbreak that set him down his murderous path. Brokenhearts begins sending notes to local law enforcement and the media. Many are bogus, but a few come directly from the killer himself and are quite telling. The murders pile up, and one note left with the donation of a human heart refers to Brokenhearts’ actions as acts of atonement.

VERSES FOR THE DEAD is classic Preston & Child, full of complex characters, plot twists and storylines that border on supernatural or otherworldly elements. The allusion to Sherlock Holmes is quite evident throughout the work of Agent Pendergast, and references to classic literature are sprinkled throughout the notes from Mister Brokenhearts. The relationship I enjoyed the most was the one between Pendergast and Coldmoon. First we see Coldmoon there merely as a pawn of Pickett to spy on Pendergast, but then he begins to stand by him even when he is not in total agreement with his means and actions.

The story is full of suspense and surprises that all converge in a jaw-dropping ending. I hope that this is the start of a new chapter in the series, where we can watch Pendergast’s continued developing partnership with Coldmoon as they are thrust into more challenging cases.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 3, 2019

Verses for the Dead: A Pendergast Novel
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

  • Publication Date: July 23, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 153874788X
  • ISBN-13: 9781538747889