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Still Life With Crows    by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child order for
Still Life With Crows
by Douglas Preston
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

FBI agent Pendergast, last seen in The Cabinet of Curiosities, heads to the Kansas cornfields to investigate gruesome murders. Sheriff Dent Hazen stumbles on the first, which is laid out like a still life, complete with a circle of dead crows spitted on genuine Indian arrows - the victim has been rounded in a similar fashion to what happened in the Medicine Creek Massacre of 1865, near the local Indian Mounds. Is the modern killing linked to the old ones?

Pendergast's arrival, off a dusty bus in the middle of the sheriff's informal press conference, is reminiscent of the opening of classic Westerns, in which the black-clad gunslinger steps off a dusty stagecoach. There are also elements of X-File's Mulder in Pendergast, since this series incorporates elements of the supernatural (though there are no aliens in sight). Pendergast rents rooms from genteel old Winifred Kraus, who guides the rare tourist into the family owned Kraus Kaverns.

As the corpses multiply along with the grue quotient, Pendergast takes on as his assistant teen Goth Corrie Swanson, who considers him 'seriously weird'. I enjoyed his comment on her vocabulary, 'I can see that an insufficient, or perhaps even defective, socialization process has led you to believe that four-letter words add power to language.' There's a half-crazy Vietnam vet, an arrogant scientist, competiton for (and controversy about) a research project on genetically altered corn, a turkey slaughterhouse, and a tornado. Pendergast enlists the help of Wren, cataloguing the Cabinet of Curiosities, but who is the watcher in the shadows?

What I dislike most about horror stories is the fact that so many of the victims inanely put themselves in harm's way. After all, if there was a gruesome serial killer in your neighborhood, would curiosity send you into lonely spots typical of those the monster frequents? I could almost hear the spooky music whenever it happened in Still Life With Crows, and it did so several times, eventually pulling in the unusual young heroine, of course.

It's clever and chilling (especially the nursery rhyme tie in), and even though I don't especially enjoy horror, I was glued to the pages. If you like your mystery grisly and gruesome, dive right in - you'll love Still Life With Crows.

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