Book Review – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s “Dance of Death”

A while back (so long ago that I cannot remember) I read Dance of Death, the sixth book in the Special Agent Pendergast series of novels written by authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  The events in Dance of Death take place immediately after the previous book, Brimstone.

Set primarily in New York CityDance of Death begins with a sudden and traumatic death of a college professor.  One moment he’s well and lecturing to his students, and the next he’s violently ill and then dead, right there in front of his students.

Meanwhile, NYPD officer Vincent D’Agosta is one of many people dealing with the aftermath of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast‘s apparent death at the end of Brimstone.  Vincent and fellow NYPD captain Laura Hayward are officially a couple and now living together.

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child — Dance of Death

Out of the blue, Vincent receives a note that instructs him to visit Pendergast’s mansion outside of the city.  When he arrives there, Constance Green, Pendergast’s female companion and apprentice, gives him a note that Pendergast wrote shortly before he disappeared.  In the note, Aloysius warns Vincent that his brother, Diogenes, is planning on committing a terrible crime on January 28 — about a week from that point in time.  There’s no clue as to what Diogenes has planned, but Aloysius knows to take his estranged brother’s arrogant warning very seriously.

In order to attempt to stop Diogenes, Vincent takes a temporarily leave of absence from the NYPD.  One of his first stops is to visit Pendergast’s great-aunt.  The elderly lady tells Vincent about the early days of Aloysious and Diogenes, and that there was a turning point when Diogenes developed a deep hatred towards his brother.

Back in the city, a man falls to his death and crashes into a restaurant.  Newspaper reporter William Smithback, Jr. (freshly married to anthropologist Nora Kelly) tries to get an edge and investigate the man’s suspicious death, but the cops keep him out of the building.  He’s forced to wait until the official police news conference along with the rest of the reporters.

In his apartment building, Vincent is surprised when Aloysius Pendergast suddenly appears in the building’s elevator.  He’s been disguised as the building’s door man so that he could keep an eye on Vincent.  Aloysius explains that it was Diogenes who saved his life back in the castle, and Diogenes who helped nurse him back to health.  He also reveals that Diogenes was the person who killed the college professor as well as the man who fell to his death in the city.  They were both acquaintances of Aloysius, and they were both killed in manners that Aloysius’s distant relatives had been killed.

The message being sent by Diogenes was clear — Aloysius was meant to suffer as people around him were killed.

When Aloysius heads to the home of FBI Special Agent Mike Decker, one of Aloysius’s friends in the Bureau, he’s minutes too late from stopping Diogenes from killing him.  Mike is brutally killed in a bloody attack, Diogenes flees from the scene of the crime, and Aloysius is framed for the murder.  Aloysius is able to escape from the house just before the police arrive, but he quickly learns that law enforcement is now hunting for him.

Highlights from the rest of the story:

  • Vincent and Laura’s relationship is strained and ultimately falls apart.
  • Bill Smithback is the next one marked for death by Diogenes.  Aloysius gives Bill a false identity and hides him in a mental asylum for most of the book.
  • Diogenes murders Margo Green in a bloody knife attack while she’s working one night in the museum.
  • Viola Maskelene (Alysius’s girlfriend in Brimstone) is baited by Diogenes (posing as Aloysius) to come to New York City.  When she arrives, Diogenes kidnaps her and uses her as leverage against Aloysius.
  • Diogenes steals a priceless diamond called Lucifer’s Heart, but he accidentally steals a fake as the real diamond was securely stored in a vault.
  • Aloysius uses an elaborate plan to steal the real diamond, and he sets up an exchange with Diogenes.  He meets him at an underground railroad turntable and successfully exchanges Viola for the Lucifer’s Heart diamond.  The police arrive and Diogenes is forced to flee, unable to take the diamond with him.
  • Lead by Laura Hayward, the police recover Lucifer’s Heart and arrest Aloysius Pendergast for the murder of Mike Decker.

It turns out that Diogenes’s master plan was to distract and taunt Aloysius with the deaths of his friends, keeping him distracted while he went after his real goal, the Lucifer’s Heart diamond.  Naturally, Diogenes is furious that Aloysius outsmarted him, even though Aloysius was still arrested and can be tried for the death penalty.  We know that Diogenes will return to seek more revenge.

The book ends with the news that Margo Green is actually alive and under a false name in a hospital up state.  She’s still critically injured, but she’s alive and being cared for by doctors and nurses.

The very ending of the book has Eli Ginn, head of Effective Engineering Solutions, a prestigious research company that Aloysius hired to create a forensic profile on Diogenes, giving Vincent D’Agosta a plan for how to break Aloysius out of prison.


So is Preston & Child’s Dance of Death any good?

Yes, this is a page-turner and a very enjoyable story.  It’s not as good as some of their earlier works, but it’s still a great addition to this series of books.

For me, I didn’t really care that Diogenes’s ultimate goal was to steal a priceless diamond.  The ploy of framing Aloysius while also taunting and attacking his colleagues was great, but it felt like a letdown that in the end, Diogenes was mainly after the diamond.  We didn’t even know that the diamond existed until the last third of the book.

Don’t expect any science-fiction elements or killer twists in Dance of Death.  The “twist” that Margo Green was still alive was quite predictable.  We already saw Aloysius use a false identity to hide Bill Smithback outside of the city.  It stands to reason that he would do that again with a different character.  It just would have been better if there was a smoother transition between Margo’s knife attack, the first responders arriving at the scene, and her being hidden in a hospital outside of the city.  The fact that she was suddenly revealed to be alive felt like a cheap shot by two obviously talented writers.

Nonetheless, Dance of Death was still a really good story.  Just make sure that you keep reading the books in order to get the most out of this story.