A Tragic Disappearance After a harrowing otherworldly confrontation on the shores of Exmouth, Massachusetts, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is missing, presumed dead. A Shocking Return Sick with grief, Pendergast's ward, Constance, retreats to her chambers beneath the family mansion at 891 Riverside Drive - only to be taken captive by a shadowy figure from the past. An International Manhunt Proctor, Pendergast's longtime bodyguard, springs to action, chasing Constance's kidnapper through cities, across oceans, and into wastelands unknown. But in a World of Black and White, Nothing Is as It Seems And by the time Proctor discovers the truth, a terrifying engine has stirred - and it may already be too late....
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I have read most of the books by Preston and Child and all of the Pendergast novels--a few more than once. Aloysius is unique and somewhat weird, as is his brother Diogenes and that is part of what makes most of these books fun. That is, until this story that renders the brothers uninteresting. I actually forgot I had this book loaded on my phone because there is nothing compelling about this story and I found it a chore to finish listening. AXLP started losing his mystique after we were introduced to his wife Helen, who was duller than mud. Each novel since then has lost a bit of sparkle and now, he is given little to do in Obsidian Chamber and his decision to allow his nutso brother to walk makes me cringe at the thought of another boring soap opera story with these once-fascinating people. Diogenes is almost a different character and is completely unbelievable. Constance, her long dresses, and pretentious vocabulary have grown tiresome. The engaging Proctor started with a bang, then becomes part of a howler of an ending. He arrives back at Riverside Drive looking emaciated, filthy and bloody. Did he find a heretofore undiscovered land bridge and walk from Africa to New York? No. We are to believe he actually got onto a plane or maybe a boat covered in his and lions' blood and did not eat, drink, or rest the long journey across the ocean just so he could collapse on the floor after a tedious buildup before the nervous Mrs.Trask finally opens the dang door.
Rene Auberjonois is great, as usual, but even he cannot save this one. This is worse than Beyond the Ice Limit. yikes
An alternate summary for this novel might be: very smart people making strings of bafflingly stupid decisions and mistakes for completely unconvincing reasons.
It's heartbreaking because I really, really wanted to like this book and I simply couldn't. The beginning was interesting and attention-gripping, but everything went downhill from there.
There was no mystery to be solved in this book which felt very strange. I mean, I suppose Pendergast had a mystery for part of it, but we, the reader, did not since we knew what was happening and why for the majority of the book and were simply waiting for him to figure it out. I think I could have overlooked the lack of mystery if what took it's place was more compelling, but it wasn't, and frankly didn't make much sense either.
SPOILERS - The rest of this review contains spoilers. Please do not read further if you have not read the story yet and want to avoid spoilers.
I had a hard time buying any of the main cast's motivations for why they did the things they did in this story. There was not at all enough reason given for Diogenes' complete reversal of character and it was unrealistic in the extreme. "I fell in a volcano so I'm suddenly magically a better person?" What is this, Darth Vader in reverse? Also, for someone as supposedly as smart as he is - he interacted with Flavia under the identity he intended to later assume permanently? When he always intended to eventually ditch her? WHY?! Wouldn't he have used another disposable alias? So many people doing so many stupid things.
Like Constance. Just trusting everything he told her. I mean, yes, I know she had her own thing going on, but if he actually HAD had bad intentions, she would have been a goner. I mean, he tells her her health is going to fail and she just believes him? He gives her some unknown substance and she's like yeah - hook me up? Why is she SO sure she can read him, given what happened the first time? At least I actually did understand (and guess) her initial motivation. It was not pleasant, but it did seem in keeping with her character. She's always had a very distinct dark side.
I would have had more respect for what she did at first, except that by the end she completely stopped making sense and both she and Pendergast seemed to take the same mind-altering stupid pills that made them somehow forget all the truly horrible things Diogenes has done, and is fully capable of doing again. I get that family is complicated, but if you want to show pity on the man put him in a mental institution so he can get help, for goodness sake! Don't release him into the wild and hope his better nature just somehow wins out after he's had all his hopes and dreams stepped on and has, like, nothing to live for? That seems bound to go SO well, don't you think?
While I'm ranting - blaming what Diogenes became on Pendergast because he was responsible for getting his brother stuck in a box with scary pictures when they were children is ludicrous. Up until now, I always understood Pendergast's feeling of guilt, because yes, an older sibling would feel that way, and sure, it was a mistake with horrible, tragic consequences. These are the kind of things we feel guilty about whether it's justified or not, but to actually spell it out like it IS entirely his fault (and not that he just feels that way) is to completely ignore Diogenes' free will and total ability to make his own choices (not to mention the rest of their obviously questionable upbringing). You cannot void the man of all responsibility for the many horrible things he's done because "something bad" happened to him. It actually makes me very upset how the whole end of the book was handled. If it was a physical book I probably would have thrown it against the wall in frustration.
Of course, I'm only so upset because I love these characters and this world so much that it physically pains me to witness such a miserable, confusing train wreck.
I have been an avid fan of this series for many years and I suppose any series this long will have a few disappointments in it. They are definitely far outnumbered by the brilliant, masterful successes, so, I shall try to convince myself that this book was all a bad dream that never happened and wait for the next one.