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Friday, November 29, 2013
The Old Master Meets a New One
"We salute the most excellent work of the Baker Street Irregulars," Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write in the "Acknowledgements" at the end of their newest novel, White Fire. It's a nice touch in a book full of nice touches.
White Fire is the latest adventure of the extraordinary Aloysius Pendergast, a New Orleans-born FBI agent who acts more like an independent investigator. In fact, with his amazing facility for deduction and his font of arcane knowledge, he acts a lot like Sherlock Holmes.
It's no big surprise, then, that the opening scene of White Fire takes place during the famous dinner meeting at which Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde each agree to write a book for the American publisher of Lippincott's magazine. It turns out that Wilde told Conan Doyle a true story that evening that made him sick . . . and thereby hangs a tale.
Pendergast, coming to the rescue of a protege in trouble, becomes involved in solving both a modern-day series of arsons and a 150-year-old crime. To get to the heart of both, he has to find and read a long-lost Sherlock Holmes story based on what Conan Doyle heard from Wilde that night. It all ties together wonderfully
The idea of imbedding a Holmes short story as a chapter in a novel is not a new idea -- I did it that in The Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore -- but Preston and Child do a quite creditable job on the pastiche. It seems to me true to both the style and the spirit of the originals.
White Fire is both a thriller (a story in which the object is to stop the villain) and a mystery (in which the object is to identify the villain). Pendergast accomplishes both in his signature style. By comparison to him, James Bond looks like a sissy and Hercule Poirot a dullard. The two female leads in the book are also strong protagonists in their own right.
The climax of the book, which takes place in a snow storm at Christmas, is as pulse-pounding as the last quarter of The Hound of the Baskservilles. And in the last chapter, Pendergast doles out a series of happy surprises reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life.
But Agent Pendergast and Sherlock Holmes together in one novel -- that's the Christmas present here.
Posted by Doctor Dan at 12:00 AM