CEMETERY DANCE by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Book Quote:

“Be careful,” he called after her. “Don’t forget those weird little packages we’ve been getting.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Dean Murphy (MAY 13, 2009)

Fast-paced action introduces the reader to “vôdou, obeah” and zombies of Louisiana backwater origins, with the murder of Nora Kelly’s husband by a neighbor who is described as having an unnatural pallor. A repeat character in the Pendergast series, Nora lives in New York City’s tony Upper West Side on West End Avenue, at the satanic symbol 666. Nora is curator of New York Museum of Natural History anthropology department, and aids protagonist Pendergast with her knowledge. Preston and Child have a combined 30 books to their credit, the ninth featuring FBI special agent Pendergast. The novelist duo has attracted a following with their best-selling Dance of Death, The Wheel of Darkness and The Book of the Dead.

Nora’s neighbor Colin Fearing in the opening chapter is witnessed by many, as he breaks into Nora’s apartment while she is out and brutally stabs to death her reporter/husband, William Smithback Jr., who has been investigating reported animal sacrifices. Fearing then attacks her, when she returns. Bizarre sketches and DAMBALAH are scrawled in Smithback’s blood on the walls. The autopsy reveals a fish hook, with feathers and difficult-to-determine voodoo symbols, gouged through Smithback’s tongue. Nora is advised that if Smithback’s body is not cremated, it should be buried according to strict voodoo burial rites. For what purpose?

The only free thing people won’t take is advice. Nora is appalled by her co-worker’s suggestion, before her husband’s body is cold. The last thing she wants to do is consider burying Smithback face down with a knife through his heart — after he had been brutally stabbed to death.  Pendergast discovers the body missing from the morgue — after all his organs are removed in an autopsy and the top of his head sawed off following the lines of an oversized yarmulka, to remove the brain. Smithback reappears a few days later — with trademark cowlick protruding — and kills a reporter investigating the same religious sect sacrificing animals that Smithback was. And frightens the bejesus out of Nora, when he breaks into their apartment.

Contrary to his Spock-like logic, New Orleans native Pendergast has Nora to wear “an arrét, an enemy-be-gone charm,” to keep Colin Fearing from making her into one of “The reanimated dead.” Unbeknownst to Nora, Fearing had committed suicide the week before. Pendergast uses a clever ruse to get mitochondrial DNA from Colin Fearing’s mother — just in case it’s needed. Armed with a court order to get Fearing’s tissue samples for comparison, Pendergast and NYPD detective Vincent D’Agosta open Fearing’s mausoleum vault to find it … empty!

Being chased by the Fearing/zombie in a museum, Nora narrowly escapes, by crawling into the skeleton of a whale. “She stood up underneath the plastic drape of a low hanging skeleton, reached up and seized a whale’s rib bone, then swung herself up, crawling into the rib cage as if it were some monstrous piece of playground equipment.”

The cover introduces the reader to seemingly satanic drawings. Pendergast discovers strange words written in blood — human blood from dead bodies. Voodoo interpreters opine that “The circular designs represent the inner dance or danse-cimetière of that particular demon.” So bizarre are voodoo paraphernalia that Pendergast’s Louisiana bayou mentor flees in fear from ghastly New York City for the safety of normal voodoo and zombies.

The authors’ use of boundless vocabulary and identifying rare wines as though they were brands of bottled water are put-offish. FBI agent Pendergast has a 12-room apartment in New York’s prestigious Dakota, the same building in which John Lennon had lived, near Nora Kelly’s tony neighborhood. Protagonist Pendergast says, “You may recapitulate succinctly, if you please,” to reign in a person who ambles on. And Nora has starched — and probably ironed — sheets in a hospital.

When a suspect sarcastically comments on Pendergast’s chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce (“Nice squad car you’ve got there”), Pendergast replies, “Budget cuts. One makes do as best one can.” The first-time Pendergast reader will find it strange that an ethical FBI agent has such wealth, but those things detract from a very believable tale of zombies in New York City. Is he on the take big time or possible inheritance? Perhaps this is a clever ruse by the authors, to have curious readers buy all the Pendergast novels? Get past stilted writing and set-up scenes and the zombies of Preston’s and Child’s creation are as believable as vampires in Salem’s Lot and Interview With the Vampire.

Though the last chapter tidies up loose ends a little too neatly — “Seems almost obvious now that you point it out” — Cemetery Dance trips the macabre fantastic.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 178 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing (May 12, 2009)
REVIEWER: Dean Murphy
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
EXTRAS: Crime Critics review of Cemetery Dance
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More reviews of books in the Pendergast series


FBI special agent Agent Pendegrast:

Gideon’s Crew Series:

Movies from books:

May 13, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: New York City, Sleuths Series

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.