This book is the equivalent of that lamb kebab I ate one hot summer back when I was living in Montreal. Like the Pendergast series to date, I quite enjoyed Indian food – until that wretched kebab. It was bad. So bad that I couldn’t eat Indian food against for years. And, I suspect, it’ll probably be that long before I pick up another book in the Pendergast series.
White Fire starts off promisingly enough with a mystery set in a Colorado town. Pendergast’s protege, a young idiot named Corrie Swanson, gets into trouble while researching and studying (and breaking and entering) the bodies of some 19th century miners. She is facing serious jail time until Pendergast shows up and turns the table on the community in spectacularly convenient fashion (locating a descendant of the dead who objects to plans to dig up a local graveyard, something the community failed to do even though, as Pendergast points out, she was remarkably easy to find). Also coincidentally, wealthy locals start getting knocked off in grisly fashion, their multi-million dollar homes burned to the ground. Why is this suddenly happening now when Pendergast comes to town? Good question. And one that’s never answered. Who is responsible? Er, if you guessed the character who doesn’t serve any real purpose in the story, you’d be correct!
As the town is gripped by the murders, someone begins to stalk Corrie: creeping around her place at night, killing her dog, taking a shot at her. Corrie reacts like any level-headed person in her position would: by not reporting the incidents to the authorities and not telling her mentor (who is an FBI agent by the way) Aloysius Pendergast. In fact, she seems more annoyed at Pendergast’s concerns for her safety than she is about her dead dog and almost getting shot. While Corrie runs around town making one dubious decision after another, effectively moving the plot forward, Aloysius looks into the existence of an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story that may shed some light on the mysterious 19th century killings of a group of miners. Fans of Sherlock scholars and fans have sought this rumoured manuscript for close to a century. Enter Pendergast who locates it in a matter of days.
Blind luck, coincidences, and convenient developments abound to help a listless and uninspired Pendergast solve the case. Yes, okay, he’s depressed due to the events in a previous book, but that doesn’t excuse the lazy way by which he works the case. At one point, he attempts to blackmail an elderly woman to gain access to a property. At another, he gains access to sensitive documents by barging into a house and setting a fire (which he later puts out with some gravy), causing everyone to conveniently clear out so that he can search. At still another, he time travels through the power of his mind to listen in on a conversation between Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, I know, this means of magical mental transport was set up in Still Life With Crows, but that doesn’t excuse it’s lameness. I hated it then and hated it here.
Ultimately, we learn that the murderer was rendered insane by mercury poisoning, something he was exposed to in the womb. Oddly enough, we are told about one character who is exposed to the mercury while working the mines and it turned him into a babbling, deranged psycho. Our murderer, who has been exposed since birth is, in contrast, a calculating serial killer possessed of the intelligence and rationale to hide his crimes.
And, uh, again, why does he just happen to start killing people when Pendergast comes to town?
Oh, almost forgot. The book almost scored points for me late when it seems Pendergast is too late to save Corrie from being burned alive. BUT, in yet another ridiculous twist, it is revealed that the charred remains don’t belong to Corrie but some other woman who the serial killer/arsonist happened to burn alive in approximately the save spot a little earlier.
A long way from Relic, the first instalment in the Pendergast series, this book was one bad lamb kebab.
This blog entry is (ironically) dedicated to Birthday Gal Das!