Special Agent Pendergast shows up on foot at the scene of the crime in Douglas Preston and Linconln Child's (Mount Dragon, The Cabinet of Curiosities) latest outing. With his pale skin and white-blonde hair contrasted against a somber black suit, Pendergast strikes a gothic note in a story of gothic proportions, a string of serial killings with the dead bodies displayed in ghoulish tableau. All eyes in this small Kansas town are on Pendergast as the bodies pile up and paranoia increases exponentially.
Sheriff Dent Hazen, a man set in his ways, does not appreciate any interference -- especially from Pendergast. Of course, the intrepid FBI agent hardly worries about the opinions of others as he pursues extraordinary clues in an attempt to unlock the key to the grisly murders, which may be tied to an infamous historical event: the Medicine Creek Massacre of 1865.
Tall stalks of corn rise against a sweltering blue sky in the August heat, claustrophobic and menacing, especially when it is deduced that the murderer is from Medicine Creek. The slowly dying town boasts only a few blocks of fading storefronts on its Main Street, floundering in a diminished farm economy. Competing for use as a site of genetic corn research by Kansas State University, the Medicine Creek murders threaten the loss of important revenue, an infusion of capital desperately needed to keep the town from sure extinction.
This summer read is a virtual vegetable soup of disparate clues and questions: the murderer, the motive, the bloody crime scenes of an almost inhuman mien. While Sheriff Hazen protects his political interests against the rising tide of mayhem, Pendergast uses his deductive reasoning and thorough research of every occupant of Medicine Creek. Yet the sheer monstrosity of the crimes begs believability, and religious people (the entire town) worry that the very essence of evil is walking among them. But no logical explanation can ameliorate the wanton violence of the kill scenes.
You won't get great literature in a co-op effort, as the writing style is necessarily constricted to propel the plot. What you do get is a compendium of esoteric trivia, thanks to Pendergast's erudition and the fascinating historical perspective of a small town awash in the detritus of history, both mythological and factual. The actual perpetrator hovers nearby, a citizen of the terrified town. One thing is certain: this isn't Dorothy's Kansas anymore.