Bloodless – Preston & Child
Special Agents Pendergast and Coldmoon are back along with Constance and investigating a series of murders in Savannah, Georgia with corpses drained of every drop of blood. Bloodless begins right where Crooked River ended which I thought was rather unfair. After two high-profile and harrowing back-to-back cases, you would think the FBI could give the two agents a break. Regardless, Pendergast and Coldmoon are on the case and Constance befriends the eccentric and reclusive owner of the lavish hotel the trio is staying in. Bloodless also introduces a documentary film crew investigating hauntings in Savannah. When the exsanguinated corpses start appearing rumors of a local legend called the Savannah Vampire intrigue the filmmakers and they start their own investigation. The deeper Pendergast digs into the case the more he realizes it may hinge on one of the most famous plane hijackings in US history, the legend of DB Cooper. How do all the pieces fit together? Who is draining bodies of blood? Why are Pendergast and Coldmoon the only people in the entire FBI that apparently work these kinds of cases?
Bloodless is the 20th (21st?) installment in the Pendergast series by (Doug) Preston & (Lincoln) Child. To try and recap the pertinent character details would take far too long. Just understand that the series builds on the one before with some overarching character arcs carrying over while the main mystery is usually a one-and-done affair. Long-time readers of the series know the writers have a penchant for setting up long multi-volume story arcs unexpectedly. The Diogenes trilogy started this trend with Brimstone, followed by Fever Dream with the Helen trilogy, and after Bloodless…well, that would be a pretty big spoiler. Suffice to say Bloodless continues this tradition and I am very interested in what comes next.
As a standalone novel, Bloodless is lightweight and spends a lot of time on characters that end up getting slaughtered. The ending reveal pushes the series to new heights of the ludicrous but is still quite fun in a trashy beach read way. The character focus is on Constance this time and her identification with a reclusive old woman who immediately susses out that Constance is not what she appears to be. As Constance surreptitiously tries to investigate the old woman, Pendergast and Coldmoon run around Savannah in a mostly by-the-numbers investigation. One negative is Coldmoon is really tired of being dragged around the South and just wants to get to his posting in Colorado Springs. He grumbles a lot, and in his role as an audience surrogate, is slower on the uptake and requires Pendergast to explain certain plot points so that he (the audience) understand them. This expositional dialogue works, but it does undermine Coldmoon as a character.
Structurally Bloodless is set up and payoff with no middle act. The first half is slowly building tension and this section works well keeping the suspense high. Once the mysteries are revealed the tone shifts from suspense to full blockbuster action for the last half with hardly a break until you close the book. Bloodless is a thrill ride that ends up being a prologue for what is coming next. That is the story I want to read and below the image I’ll explain why by revealing the ending and how Bloodless sets up the next installment as well as my predictions.
The mystery in Bloodless is complicated but boils down to a time machine that has been kept hidden for 50 years after being stolen by DB Cooper, revealed to be the old woman that Constance befriends. While trying to see further into the future to manipulate the stock market for big money, a portal was inadvertently opened to another place and time and a giant kaiju space mosquito came through which proceeds to attack Savannah in the finale. When he realized the machine can be used to send a person through time, Pendergast went through the portal to kill the mosquito in the past to stop it from destroying the city in the future. After the battle is over and Constance realizes what the machine can do, she uses it to travel back in time to 1880 New York City to stop Enoch Leng from killing her sister. The time machine is destroyed due to the enormous power surge needed to travel back so far in time, and Constance is stranded in the past alone. As the novel ends, she hawks some jewels that she brought to the past and heads downtown to start her mission.
I haven’t looked forward to a new Pendergast novel this much since 2006’s The Book of the Dead. Here’s to hoping Preston & Child pay off this terrific setup by focussing on Constance in the past rather than Pendergast’s attempts to reach her in the present. I’m guessing Pendergast will seek out Eli Glinn and his Effective Engineering Solutions for assistance again which could possibly lead to a crossover with Gideon Crew, if he is still alive at least.
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