Still Life with Crows appears to be an interlude in the continuing adventures of Special Agent Pendergast, who last appeared in The Cabinet of Curiosities and whose adventures seem to adding up to something significant having to do with his own family history. The current book has no connection to that larger saga, except for a tiny bit of subplot which seems intended to remind us to stay tuned.
In truth, this is a much simpler tale than anything the agent has been involved in so far, and it really only his idiosyncratic presence that lifts it above potboiler status. After all, we’ve been here before: isolated town, strange ritualistic deaths, alienated teenage girl, suspicious but well-meaning sheriff, hints of some sort of cult, or perhaps a monster, deadly caves.
Into all of this strolls Pendergast, apparently on leave from his rather odd position with the FBI. We know that Pendergast comes from Southern wealth, that he takes the odd cases, that he’s Fox Mulder with a fashion sense and a touch of Sherlock Holmes, that he solves crimes using a kind of psychic virtual reality exercise, kind of like what Jordan and her father used to do before the retired police officer turned publican role got written out of Crossing Jordan.
He enlists the aid of the alienated teen, and begins an investigation which soon has the local sheriff as puzzled as we are, and looking to shut the agent down. More murders and mysterious events make it more important than ever that Pendergast stay on the case, but that becomes more and more difficult.
Misled by their own inability to account for the unusual, the police stage a disastrous raid into a labyrinth of caves in search of an escaped convict they believe to be the culprit. I won’t say more about. Suffice it to say that there more action in those caves than there was when Tom Sawyer got lost while fleeing Injun Joe.
The one thing missing from this caper was a reason for the murderer to be doing what he was doing, and that emerges as almost a joke at the end of the book after the main action has been wrapped up. I saw it coming just slightly before it became clear and I almost couldn’t believe it. It was so bizarre it was perfect.
My guess is that the girl from this book is going to turn up later on, and that perhaps the sole reason for this detour was to introduce her into the continuing cast of characters. We shall see.