Series newcomers may stumble over the minimal back story provided on the brilliant loner that is Pendergast, all pale skin and gaunt frame, and might be somewhat confused by his Riverside Drive mansion, three apartments in the Dakota, and vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith driven by a taciturn factotum named Proctor. Set in the weeks before Christmas, the book has a nice sense of chilly city winds and snow-piled streets, but the atmosphere grows far more foreboding when Pendergast tracks the killer to an abandoned psychiatric hospital on Long Island. One of the best in the series—tense and tightly wound, with death relentlessly circling, stalking, lurking behind every shadow.
Tasked with helping out on a brutal New York City murder case in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Agent Aloysius Pendergast begins searching for Grace Ozmian’s killer when he realizes there may be more than one madman on the loose … In what feels like an effort to allow newcomers to jump into this book without having to start back at the beginning of the series, Preston and Child provide little to no background on Pendergast … While the pacing is a tad slower than what Preston and Child’s readers are used to, diehard fans will enjoy hanging with Pendergast and seeing D’Agosta operate on his home turf.
...improbable at best and clownish at worst … Seemingly pulled from the pages of a comic book, our protagonists participate in a story that is equally less than literary. D’Agosta flounders as the body count climbs and ends up adopting an improbable hypothesis published by journalist Bryce Harriman, who might qualify as one of the ten most annoying fictional characters of the decade … The authors flip-flop between Pedergast’s point of view and that of the threatening antagonist, defanging the story of almost all its suspense and further distancing us from our hero.
There’s no obvious motive for the killings, and D’Agosta feels pressure from New York City’s mayor to come up with answers. Though the minimization of Pendergast’s complex backstory makes this entry more accessible to newcomers, the authors fail to generate their usual high level of suspense. The climax will strike fans as too familiar.