Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4)

Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4)

by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child

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Overview

When a series of murders strikes small-town Kansas, FBI Special Agent Pendergast must track down a killer or a curse — either way, no one is safe.

A small Kansas town has turned into a killing ground.
Is it a serial killer, a man with the need to destroy?
Or is it a darker force, a curse upon the land?
Amid golden cornfields, FBI Special Agent Pendergast discovers evil in the blood of America's heartland.
No one is safe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455582907
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 05/27/2014
Series: Special Agent Pendergast Series , #4
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 33,108
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

The thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child "stand head and shoulders above their rivals" (Publishers Weekly). Preston and Child's Relic and The Cabinet of Curiosities were chosen by readers in a National Public Radio poll as being among the one hundred greatest thrillers ever written, and Relic was made into a number-one box office hit movie. They are coauthors of the famed Pendergast series and their recent novels include Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, Two Graves, and Gideon's Corpse. In addition to his novels, Preston writes about archaeology for the New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines. Lincoln Child is a former book editor who has published five novels of his own, including the huge bestseller Deep Storm.
Readers can sign up for The Pendergast File, a monthly "strangely entertaining note" from the authors, at their website, www.PrestonChild.com. The authors welcome visitors to their alarmingly active Facebook page, where they post regularly.

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Education:

B.A., Pomona College, 1978

Read an Excerpt

Still Life with Crows


By Douglas Preston

Thorndike Press

Copyright © 2003 Douglas Preston
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0786259426

Chapter One

Medicine Creek, Kansas. Early August. Sunset.

The great sea of yellow corn stretches from horizon to horizon under an angry sky. When the wind rises the corn stirs and rustles as if alive, and when the wind dies down again the corn falls silent. The heat wave is now in its third week, and dead air hovers over the corn in shimmering curtains.

One road cuts through the corn from north to south; another from east to west. Where the two roads cross lies the town. Sad gray buildings huddle together at the intersection, gradually thinning along both roads into separate houses, then scattered farms, and then nothing. A creek, edged by scraggly trees, wanders in from the northwest, loops lazily around the town, and disappears in the southeast. It is the only curved thing in this landscape of straight lines. To the northeast rises a cluster of mounds surrounded by trees.

A giant slaughterhouse stands south of the town, lost in the corn, its metal sides scoured by years of dust storms. The faint odor of blood and disinfectant drifts in a plume southward from the plant, riding the fitful currents of air. Beyond, just over the horizon, stand three gigantic grain silos, like a tall-masted ship lost at sea.

The temperature is exactly one hundred degrees. Heat lightning flickerssilently along the distant northern horizon. The corn is seven feet high, the fat cobs clustered on the stalks. Harvest is two weeks away. One. Twilight is falling over the landscape. The orange sky bleeds away into red. A handful of streetlights blink on in the town. A black-and-white police cruiser passes along the main street, heading east into the great nothingness of corn, its headlights stabbing into the rising darkness. Some three miles ahead of the cruiser, a column of slow-circling turkey vultures rides a thermal above the corn. They wheel down, then rise up again, circling endlessly, uneasily, rising and falling in a regular cadence.

Sheriff Dent Hazen fiddled with the dashboard knobs and cursed at the tepid air that streamed from the vents. He felt the vent with the back of his hand but it wasn't getting any cooler: the AC had finally bit the dust. He muttered another imprecation and cranked down the window, tossing out his cigarette butt. Furnacelike air boiled in, and the cruiser filled with the smell of late-summer Kansas: earth, cornstalks. He could see the circling turkey buzzards rise and dip, rise and dip above the dying smear of sunset along the horizon. One ugly motherfucker of a bird, thought Hazen, and he glanced over at the long-barreled Winchester Defender lying on the seat beside him. With any luck, he'd get close enough to assist two or three of them into the next world.

He slowed and glanced once again at the dark birds silhouetted against the sky. Why the hell aren't any of them landing? Turning off the main road, he eased the cruiser onto one of the many rutted dirt lanes that cut their way through the thousand square miles of corn surrounding Medicine Creek. He moved forward, keeping a watch on the sky, until the birds were almost directly overhead. This was as close as he was going to get by car. From here, he'd have to walk.

He threw the cruiser into park and, more out of habit than necessity, snapped on the lightbar flashers. He eased his frame out of the cruiser and stood for a moment facing the wall of corn, drawing a rough hand across his stubbled chin. The rows went in the wrong direction and it was going to be a bitch getting through them. Just the thought of shouldering through all those rows made him weary, and for a moment he thought about putting the cruiser in reverse and getting the hell back to town. But it was too late for that now: the neigh-bor's call had already been logged. Old Wilma Lowry had nothing better to do but look out her window and report the location of dead animals. But this was his last call of the day, and a few extra hours on Friday evening at least guaranteed him a long, lazy, boozy Sunday fishing at Hamilton Lake State Park.

Hazen lit another cigarette, coughed, and scratched himself, looking at the dry ranks of corn. He wondered if it was somebody's cow who'd wandered into the corn and was now dead of bloat and greed. Since when was it a sheriff 's responsibility to check on dead livestock? But he already knew the answer: ever since the livestock inspector retired. There was nobody to take his place and no longer a need for one. Every year there were fewer family farms, fewer livestock, fewer people. Most people only kept cows and horses for nostalgic reasons. The whole county was going to hell.

Realizing he'd put off the task long enough, Hazen sighed, hiked up his jangling service belt, slipped his flashlight out of its scabbard, shouldered the shotgun, and pushed his way into the corn.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the sultry air refused to lift. The beam of his light flashed through the cornstalks stretching before him like endless rows of prison bars. His nose filled with the smell of dry stalks, that peculiar rusty smell so familiar it was part of his very being. His feet crunched dry clods of earth, kicking up dust. It had been a wet spring, and until the heat wave kicked in a few weeks back the summer sun had been benevolent. The stalks were as high as Hazen could ever remember, at least a foot or more over his head. Amazing how fast the black earth could turn to dust without rain. Once, as a kid, he'd run into a cornfield to escape his older brother and gotten lost. For two hours. The disorientation he'd felt then came back to him now. Inside the corn rows, the air felt trapped: hot, fetid, itchy.

Hazen took a deep drag on the cigarette and continued forward, knocking the fat cobs aside with irritation. The field belonged to Buswell Agricon of Atlanta, and Sheriff Hazen could not have cared less if they lost a few ears because of his rough passage. Within two weeks Agricon's huge combine harvesters would appear on the horizon, mowing down the corn, each feeding half a dozen streams of kernels into their hoppers. The corn would be trucked to the cluster of huge grain silos just over the northern horizon and from there railed to feed lots from Nebraska to Missouri, to disappear down the throats of mindless castrated cattle, which would in turn be transformed into big fat marbled sirloins for rich assholes in New York and Tokyo. Or maybe this was one of those gasohol fields, where the corn wasn't eaten by man or even beast but burned up in the engines of cars instead. What a world.

Hazen bullied his way through row after row. Already his nose was running. He tossed his cigarette away, then realized he should probably have pinched it off first. Hell with it. A thousand acres of the damn corn could burn and Buswell Agricon wouldn't even notice. They should take care of their own fields, pick up their own dead animals. Of course, the executives had probably never set foot in a real cornfield in their lives.

Like almost everyone else in Medicine Creek, Hazen came from a farming family that no longer farmed. They had sold their land to companies like Buswell Agricon. The population of Medicine Creek had been dropping for more than half a century and the great industrial cornfields were now dotted with abandoned houses, their empty window frames staring like dead eyes over the billowy main of crops. But Hazen had stayed. Not that he liked Medicine Creek particularly; what he liked was wearing a uniform and being respected. He liked the town because he knew the town, every last person, every dark corner, every nasty secret. Truth was, he simply couldn't imagine himself anywhere else. He was as much a part of Medicine Creek as Medicine Creek was a part of him.

Hazen stopped suddenly. He swept his beam through the stalks ahead. The air, full of dust, now carried another smell: the perfume of decay. He glanced up. The buzzards were far above now, directly over his head. Another fifty yards and he would be there. The air was still, the silence complete. He unshouldered his shotgun and moved forward more cautiously.

The smell of decay drifted through the rows, sweeter by the moment. Now Hazen could make out a gap in the corn, a clearing directly ahead of him. Odd. The sky had flamed its red farewell and was now dark.

The sheriff raised his gun, eased off the safety with his thumb, and broke through the last corn row into the clearing. For a moment he looked around in wild incomprehension. And then, rather suddenly, he realized what he was looking at.

The gun went off when it hit the ground and the load of double-ought buckshot blew by Hazen's ear. But the sheriff barely noticed.



Continues...


Excerpted from Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston Copyright © 2003 by Douglas Preston. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

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Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 278 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ive read all the Pendergast books and this one is one of my favorites. Very chilling. I enjoyed all the ancillary characters as well. You really get the feeling of isolation in this small town in the middle of corn country. A great read that I found difficult to put down.
caroline18 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love the Agent Pendergast series. All the books are excellent. This one seems to be a little out there and is a bit gruesome but they pulled this one off with an excellent ending that made everything come together as you could only expect from Preston and Child. I loved it! Excellent read! Can't wait to start another from these two!
ScottMitchell More than 1 year ago
This was the first Pendergast book that I read. It kept on the edge of my seat through the whole book. After finishing this book I could'nt wait to get my hands on all the other Pendergrast novels. The characters in this book were great and made me feel like I was stuck in that midwest town with them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the minute I started the book I knew it would be a page turner and I wasn't let down. The book was scary, mysterious, and kept you on the edge of your seat till the very end with a shocking twist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another page turner. I cant wait to read the next in the series.
kmeghan More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It's creepy and funny and twisty and I never knew what was going to happen, and I love that! Douglas Preston and Lincold Child have really started a great character with Agent Pendergast and I look foward to many more!
Kasia_S More than 1 year ago
The fourth book in the series has plenty of thrills, chills and surprises but the format changes from the usual Preston/Child way of tackling this saga. The backdrop of New York City is left behind, Special Agent Pendergast takes a small "vacation" which is only a cover up for tackling yet another gruesome case, this time taking place in remote town of Medicine Creek, Kansas. Quite a change from the mysterious urban setting we see Pendergast in, his usual friends and helpers are missing as well, replaced with a local named Carrie, a girl whom no one understands, no one other than Pendergast of course, and the two opposites seem more alike than different in the strange farm setting. Always having a keen nose for finding trouble, Pendergast sticks out like a sore thumb in the sea of farmers and town folk. Dressed in expensive hand made wool suits and shoes, always in black, the tall and wonderfully proper agent gets on the nerves of the local police force, almost magically always at the right time in the right place to find clues and bodies which never stop popping up. When it appears that a madman is on the loose and the killings are extremely weird and macabre, each death more bizarre than the last, it doesn't take long for Pendergast to notice that something out of the ordinary is going on. Is the devil in flesh visiting the small sleepy town or is it indeed a work of a man, somehow untraceable and invisible. The mystery was interesting but the way it was being solved was even more fun, Douglas and Preston do an excellent job of breathing life into simple pages filled with words, making it read like a movie.

Cornfields can be creepy, somehow movies and books always use them to the maximum for adding the element of mystery and confusion, the chases and surprises always lead to the fields where prey and the predator play. This novel does is it brilliantly, people go in and some never come out...

What I love about this series, other than Pendergast who is a fantastic and mesmerizing character, is that the reader never knows if something supernatural is going on or if life in the story is really that weird and bizarre. Monsters, ghosts, demons, they are all possible here but sometimes it's the human evil that makes the deeds appear form out of this world. Best part is reading on and finding out which will take place in the novel and these are juicy and wonderful and always a delight to read. The only negative thing about this book was the length, somehow about a hundred pages before the end I was craving the conclusion and one part of the story kept going on and on, driving me crazy, but other than that I loved the book and will always think of it fondly.

- Kasia S.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was fabulous! I could not put it down, I highly recommend it!
ken1952 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Probably my favorite Agent Pendergast novel so far. Loved the small town Kansas setting surrounded by corn fields, in the midst of a long hot summer. Pendergast is away from New York this time and on vacation, although a vacation for him means murders and mayhem. Once again, we find ourselves undergound. Hey, at least it's cool down there.
loubigfish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting story line with a great FBI character. Had all upside to the story line...
CynDaVaz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the latest Pendergast book that I finished and was not disappointed by Preston & Child's 4th contribution to the series. One of my favorites so far.
WillyMammoth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book in the Pendergast series sees FBI Special Agent Pendergast visiting Medicine Creek, Kansas, the site of a series of bizarre serial murders. They are at once organized and disorganized, an anomaly in the world of criminal profiling, and thus garners Pendergast's undivided attention. He works to track down the man or monster perpetrating these vile acts, at the same time sifting through the town's dirty laundry to uncover old familial sins that have some bearing on their current predicament.It was a fun read, and like most books by Preston and Child, the pages fly by. They're great writers when it comes to painting a vivid scene in the mind's eye, and it's very easy to get absorbed in the narrative. They also explore many different interesting personalities in the dying town. By far the most intriguing is Corrie, the disaffected goth youth (for what goth youth *isn't* disaffected) who becomes Pendergast's "junior detective" protege. But the one thing about this book that really grated on me--and indeed, the one thing about *most* P&C books--is the fact that Special Agent Pendergast is an undeniable Mary Sue. He's perfect. He's a genius, he has a crap-ton of money, he's cultured beyond believe, he is a crack shot with a gun, knows martial arts, can do damn near anything he sets out to do, he always figures out the mystery before anyone else, and while doing all of that he is amazingly smug and self assured about the whole thing. In short, he's perfect. He's intellectually and physically superior to everyone he meets, and it's annoying as hell. Don't get me wrong. I still like the books. And in fact, of all the Lincoln and Child books I've read, this was by far my favorite. But a character who is utterly awsome at every aspect of life is boring to me. If anything, though, that's just another example of what great story tellers Preston and Child really are. If they can hold my attention with a character that I hate so utterly, they've got to be damn fine writers. And they are. That's why--despite my dislike of Pendergast--I still had to give the book a 4 out 5.
burnit99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An unusual installment in the chronicles of Special Agent Pendergast, as he investigates a gruesome murder in the small dusty town of Medicine Creek, Kansas. The victim has been mutilated and arranged in an intricate scene in a small clearing in a cornfield. Soon other murders are taking place, and the fish-out-of-water Pendergast must counter small-town suspicions and prejudices as he attempts to unveil the killer. He enlists the help of 18-year-old Corrie Swanson, a town oddball who reminds me of a younger Lisbeth Salander (from the "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy). A stand-alone Pendergast chapter that is riveting for its characters and high suspense.
the_hag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Still Life with Crows Preston & Child manage to capture a perfect literary snapshot of mid-west small town Americana in decline, complete with stereotypical small town characterizations...which, as it turns out is forgivable as they introduce them as the stereotype, but as the story develops so too do the characters so that by the end of the book they are more complex, interesting, and likeable than they would have been has the authors stopped at the stereotype. While they are more complex than the stereotypes they could have remained, still they fall short of being main characters and that's a shame. The basic premise is that there has been a murder, elaborately laid out and brutal beyond reason...the murder is both organized and frenzied, thoughtfully and painstakingly designed...it's methodical yet crazed...in short, it's are bizarre. What we start out with is a dead woman arranged on an elaborate tableau of corn stalks, dead crows impaled and placed in a circle around the body on valuable native American arrows and a killer who seems to appear magically out of the corn and to disappear just as easily and quickly, leaving behind only the gruesome but elaborately designed scene. Shortly thereafter Pendegast arrives (by bus no less) and inserts himself into the investigation. He claims the killer is local and serial...the sheriff doesn't believe him...shortly thereafter, more bodies begin appearing and the task at hand is to figure out who and how as quickly as possible. I was glad to see the authors tone down the perfect-ness of Pendegast since they made him the main character in this book...somehow I think he's best written as part of a trio of main characters and neither Corrie (disaffected Goth teen hired to be his driver/assistant) nor the Sheriff were written in enough depth to qualify or involved enough to compare to the trio of Relic or Cabinet of Curiosities. So that leaves the focus mostly on the super perfect Pendegast, who is so cultured it is almost beyond belief, always dressed in the most expensive clothing, with the finest taste in food and drink, and naturally he is rich beyond measure...while they allowed him the luxury of fine food and expensive, elaborately prepared teas being Fed-Exed to his location in Kansas and kept him dressed in an expensive black suite and hand-made Italian shoes...he's not quite so perfect or annoying in Still Life with Crows as he was in Cabinet of Curiosities. He's still better than us...but we see more of how he works and why and that makes him more human (and thus likeable and believable as a character) and less of a super-human snob, at least it did for me. One of the interesting things about Still Life with Crows is that the authors take a strong swipe at agribusiness, genetic engineering of crops, and meat processing (an unnamed turkey processing plant is one of the settings and they pull no punches when describing the process...or it's effect on the employees, to the reader)...it seems an odd but interesting aside in this serial killer horror fest. Additionally, this book plays to the most obvious themes of plotting...a strong Sherlock Holmes bent (with Shades of Poirot?), a disaffected teen rebel (with purple hair and "Goth" look) who is too smart for her own good, the contrast of refined city culture and bleak Midwest country life, the additional rich/poor contrast, the play between small town sheriff and FBI (complete with tones of it's MY investigation from the Sheriff)...so many stark contrasts in one book but because it's all richly woven together it works! And the ending...please, I was expecting a monster (a sick twisted human one, as opposed to the human turned true monster in Relic), but noooooooooo, we got bad B movie ending instead...I figured it out well before the end and way hoping and praying they weren't REALLY going to go there...but they did. I enjoyed the book right up to that point, they crime scenes were elaborate, way creepy and gruesome; the buil
hoosgracie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Decent addition to the Preston/Child oeuvre. This entry again stars Agent Pendergast. He is in Kansas where there is a sadistic serial killer on the loose.
jonesjohnson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Agent Pendergast, the main recurring character in this series, is the kind of irritatingly smart guy that everyone likes, even when they hate him. I have an ongoing argument about who would best play this character. My vote is for Crispin Glover. Regardless, this is the best of the Pendergast books, IMHO. Cabinet of Curiosities is quite good as well. The later works in the series feel phoned in, but if you started this series late, the order doesn't really matter much. The backstory is of interest, of course, but there are enough plotlines that it is still worth it to read these earlier, and better, works. Don't judge this series by the latests bits, please!
istoria on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recently finished this installment of the Pendergast series. I honestly didn't think they'd be able to keep things fresh with this being the fourth(?) book in the series but I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. I didn't see the ending coming until the last hundred pages or so. My only complaint was that there were at least three 'endings' before the book finished.
glitterina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cory is my favorite character in the series. I was hoping she would be in Book of the Dead, but no such luck. Maybe nextime.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fan of all the books by Preston and Child, this thriller is set in Kansas. It's fun to see how Special Agent Pendergast handles the small town.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. One of the best Pendergast books, and that's saying a lot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing, every story I read is absolutely amazing! The story telling is the absolute best! So glad I found these Arthur's. Looks like I've got a lot of catching up to do . Have only read 6 of their stories. If the authors read these reviews, thank you! I love your stories!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent and fast-paced
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bad because i did not get the point of the story !-!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago