The Helen Trilogy – A 3 Novel Riot within the Pendergast Series by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

The Helen Trilogy is made up of three books;

  1. Fever Dream (2010)
  2. Cold Vengeance (2011)
  3. Two graves ( 2012)

These three are the most recent in a series of 12 novels (as of the release of Two Graves.) The series is lovingly referred to as The Pendergast Series by rabid fans but called the Pendergast novels by the authors. They insist that for the most part the Pendergast books are stand alone stories that happen to feature the same canon character(s). The Helen Trilogy marks the second time Preston & Child have deviated from this paradigm.

The first set of admittedly sequential novels (referring to story content and not release date) was the Diogenes Trilogy; books 5, 6 and 7 in the series that isn’t a series. Just in case you haven’t been counting that adds up to exactly half the books that chronicle the adventures of FBI Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast. Confused yet?

I plan to touch on each of the books in the series in later entries but for now suffice it to say that through the nine books preceding the start of this trilogy the reader becomes attached, not only to Aloysius Pendergast but the strong cast of supporting characters. In a lot of novels, even ones in lengthy series, the character development can seem rushed or contrived but not here. The constant evolution of the human spirit is respected in the pages of these books just as much as the nasty truth of some people so set in their ways  that they will never change.

One of my favorite things about this “series” as a whole is that people die. I’m not being a sadist,  most of the plots center around the solving of some really wild murders performed by some of the most depraved human beings ever imagined by anyone. In this world of blood and dark intentions it would be ridiculous for everyone to come out on the sunny side every time. I love that the authors have said on several occasions and have proven that no one is really safe.

This is no bare bones police procedural either. The whole shtick of Agent Pendergast is that he only works on crimes he finds interesting. This takes the reader on a ride through plots developed by taking science with a little super science/sci-fi mixed in, Tibetan meditation and legends, anthropological anomalies, nursery rhymes, nazi conspiracy (even though it’s been done to death,) then throwing in some deep seeded, dark and occasionally downright scary family issues for good measure. Simply incredible.

Before you can love this series you must first understand its enigmatic star… although I think understand is a terrible word choice. I doubt even the authors understand their main man.

Here are 12 facts on Agent Pendergast;

  1. Name: Aloysius X.L.  Pendergast (No, I do not know what the middle two stand for)
  2. Born – New Orleans, LA
  3. Age – unknown. 50-ish I believe as of the beginning of this trilogy.
  4. Weight – unknown. He’s skinny and tall with some lean muscle.
  5. Hair – so blonde it’s almost white
  6. Eyes – grey
  7. inherited a vast fortune his family obtained through questionable means over a century before.
  8. Former special forces soldier – branch unknown. He doesn’t like to talk about that but he uses his training frequently.
  9. Holds some form of doctoral degree though we never know in what. (Are you seeing a pattern form here?)
  10. Gun of Choice – Les Baer .45 revolver. (And that is just the beginning of a lot of southern gentlemen bad ass-ery.)
  11. Murderous psychosis runs heavily in his family
  12. Speaks with a smooth as molasses southern drawl

So about those family issues…

Fever Dream (2010)

Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Licoln Child

On the whole, this novel is right in line with the other Pendergast works. It contains much of the teamwork, explosions, gun fire, dry wit and some Sherlock Holmes level deductive/inductive reasoning the fans have come to expect while building a lot of intrigue that will carry us through the remaining installments in this trilogy. Plus, it ends in the usual fashion of Preston & Child; which for me means staring blankly at the last page willing the story to continue followed by some lively cussing when I remember I don’t have magical powers. The pain is excruciating. These brilliant authors LOVE cliffhangers. You have been warned.

Official Synopsis;

At the old family manse in Louisiana, Special Agent Pendergast is putting to rest long-ignored possessions reminiscent of his wife Helen’s tragic death, only to make a stunning-and dreadful-discovery.

Helen had been mauled by an unusually large and vicious lion while they were big game hunting in Africa. But now, Pendergast learns that her rifle-her only protection from the beast-had been deliberately loaded with blanks. Who could have wanted Helen dead…and why?

With Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta’s assistance, Pendergast embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery of his wife’s murder. It is a journey that sends him deep into her past where he learns much that Helen herself had wished to keep hidden.

Helen Pendergast had nursed a secret obsession with the famed naturalist-painter John James Audubon, in particular a long-lost painting of his known as the Black Frame.

As Pendergast probes more deeply into the riddle-the answer to which is revealed in a night of shocking violence, deep in the Louisiana bayou-he finds himself faced with an even greater question: who was the woman he married?

Cold Vengeance (2011)

Cold Vengeance

In this second installment in the Trilogy things begin to “pop off,” as they say. We begin to learn about the shady organization that was moving in the background in Fever Dream as Pendergast displays some very wild behavior, even for him. There is no easing into the action, this novel is 0-120 in a school zone. Also, if you think the cliff hanger from the last book was intense in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, “baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Official synopsis;

Devastated by the discovery that his wife, Helen, was murdered, Special Agent Pendergast must have retribution. But revenge is not simple.

As he stalks his wife’s betrayers-a chase that takes him from the wild moors of Scotland to the bustling streets of New York City and the darkest bayous of Louisiana-he is also forced to dig further into Helen’s past. And he is stunned to learn that Helen may have been a collaborator in her own murder.

Peeling back the layers of deception, Pendergast realizes that the conspiracy is deeper, goes back generations, and is more monstrous than he could have ever imagined-and everything he’s believed, everything he’s trusted, everything he’s understood . . . may be a horrific lie.

Two graves ( 2012)

two graves

As the finale of what has been to this point a breathtaking trilogy, Two Graves will not disappoint. This is one of the best books I have read in my life, top 5, end of discussion. As someone who has loved the characters in these pages for years this book made me laugh, scream, swear, feel sick to my stomach and forget all my passwords at work. It’s very rare for a work of literature, or anything not related to my life directly, to have this kind of effect on me. All there is to say about this book is; READ IT! Although I would absolutely recommend taking in the whole trilogy in order. The plot is very in-depth.

The conclusion of the trilogy is in keeping with the conclusion of all Agent  Pendergast’s adventures; there is no absolute victory. It’s painful and sweet, infuriating and beautiful… it’s the work of a couple of brilliant, mad men. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have triumphed, yet again.

Official Synopsis;

After his wife, Helen, is brazenly abducted before his eyes, Special Agent Pendergast furiously pursues the kidnappers, chasing them across the country and into Mexico. But then, things go terribly, tragically wrong; the kidnappers escape; and a shattered Pendergast retreats to his New York apartment and shuts out the world.

But when a string of bizarre murders erupts across several Manhattan hotels–perpetrated by a boy who seems to have an almost psychic ability to elude capture–NYPD Lieutenant D’Agosta asks his friend Pendergast for help. Reluctant at first, Pendergast soon discovers that the killings are a message from his wife’s kidnappers. But why a message? And what does it mean?

When the kidnappers strike again at those closest to Pendergast, the FBI agent, filled anew with vengeful fury, sets out to track down and destroy those responsible. His journey takes him deep into the trackless forests of South America, where he ultimately finds himself face to face with an old evil that-rather than having been eradicated-is stirring anew… and with potentially world-altering consequences.

Confucius once said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” Pendergast is about to learn the hard way just how true those words still ring.

There is no “I love/I hate” to this one without giving away essential plot points. I love and hate these books, sometimes simultaneously.

I recommend The Helen Trilogy for;

  • Anyone over the age of 16.
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