Preston and Child execute
another thrilling pas de deux
with Aloysius and Diogenes

''Dance of Death''
By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
(Warner Books, 401 pp., $25.95)
Hardback at Amazon
Paperback at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
June 2005

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child for years have amused themselves and their fans by salting even their stand-alone thrillers with cameos or references to previous books. On their web site,, they even have a section called Pangea that lists some of the arcane connections, such as in ''Thunderhead'': ''The ship's doctor, Patrick Brambell, was obliquely identified as the brother of the medical examiner in ''Reliquary.''

But regardless of the many strands of their fictional web, each novel stands easily on its own. Read it, enjoy it, put it down, it's finished.

Dance of DeathThat is, until ''Brimstone'' in 2004. That book is a terrific read on its own, but it ends with a killer cliffhanger: Preston/Child's most-seen hero, special agent Aloysius Pendergast, is bricked alive into a tiny room underneath a remote Italian castle. But, after his tormentor is killed and the searchers have departed, a mysterious person we realize must be Pendergast's sociopathic brother, Diogenes, removes a brick to at least peer at the imprisoned Aloysius. ''The End.''

Does Aloysius survive? The answer is in the duo's latest novel, ''Dance of Death,'' which is not only a fabulous, absorbing, wild ride of thriller, it turns out to be part two of what will have to be at least a three-part serial.

Because while it enormously expands the tale of the fatally strange Pendergast family -- especially the relationship of the two brilliant brothers -- it ends on another dang cliffhanger.

And for fans of the Preston/Child Pangea, it is an encyclopedia of appearances or references to pretty much the entire canon.

''Dance of Death'' opens with a college professor killing himself, in a most grisly way, in a New Orleans lecture hall full of students, some of whom are splattered with his blood.

Later, another man drops to his death from his Manhattan apartment through the glass roof of a fancy restaurant. After that, an FBI agent is orally speared by an old bayonet, in his own home in Washington, D.C. The deaths, of course, are related. How so would be giving away too much.

While some of this is happening, Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, newly restored to the New York Police Department after his adventures in ''Brimstone,'' meets with Pendergast's ward, Constance. She hands him a letter from Pendergast, which reads:

If you are reading this letter, it means that I am dead. It also means I died before I could accomplish a task that, rightfully, belongs to me and no other. That task is preventing my brother, Diogenes, from committing what he once boasted would be the ''perfect'' crime. ... Diogenes' threat is too amorphous for me to take to the FBI or other law enforcement agency, since he contrived his own false death some years ago. A single, dedicated individual has the best chance of preventing my brother from carrying out this crime. That individual is you.

And the crime is expected to occur in one week from the day D'Agosta reads that letter. Pendergast has arranged some help for D'Agosta, including a $500,000 bank account, but there are other issues for the earnest cop, including the fact that his lover, Capt. Laura Hayward of the NYPD, called in a lot of favors to get him his job back. D'Agosta imagines trying to tell his own superior, Capt. Glen Singleton, why he really needs some time off the job: ''But just what the hell was he suppose to say? Sorry, cap, but I'm taking unlimited time off to go chase a man who's officially dead, whose whereabouts are unknown, for a crime that hasn't been committed?''

Also on board from the Preson/Child crew are New York Times reporter Bill Smithback and his wife, Nora Kelly, and Margo Green. The three have in common the Museum of Natural History (dating to ''Relic''), where Kelly is helping put together a new exhibit that will include some ancient American Indian ceremonial masks, and Green, editor of a museum publication, wants the masks given back to the tribe that lost them, years ago, to the museum.

Also prominent at the museum is a diamond collection that includes ''Lucifer's Heart,'' a unique, and huge, red diamond. This resounds of a theme in Preston/Child that includes the red object of ''The Ice Limit,'' one of whose characters is Eli Glinn, who also plays a role in this book, when his company is hired to produce an important character profile of Diogenes.

As the novel progresses, the NYPD, including D'Agosta's beloved Laura Hayward, begins to believe that not only is agent Pendergast alive, he is a serial murder, responsible for those three deaths mentioned earlier. Hayward tells D'Agosta, ''any further actions on your part to protect him will about to criminal obstruction and accessory after the fact. You're already in deep shit and this is the only way you're going to get out of it.''

Diogenes is a terrific character, as brilliant in his complete sociopathy as Aloysius is in his ability to combat evil. Perhaps Preston and Child, after creating the amazing Aloysius, felt they needed to come up with his equal from the dark side. The crime that D'Agosta hopes to foil within one week's time is one that Diogenes has been carefully planning for almost 20 years.

The cliffhanger that ends ''Dance of Death'' raises the question of what Preston and Child will do next, even as it raises the interest of their fans. It reminds of the Harry Potter series, except that J.K. Rowling has always said there would be seven novels in young Harry's tale.

Preston and Child will have to produce at least one more book in this elongated tale, or their fans will beat them about the head and shoulders. But after that? It is delicious to anticipate.