(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Brimstone is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s thriller featuring FBI Special Agent Pendergast, a cross between The X- Files’s Fox Mulder and Sherlock Holmes. Pendergast once again investigates murders bearing supernatural elements beginning with the bizarre death of art critic Jeremy Grove, whose body has somehow been cooked from the inside out. The imprint of a cloven hoof is burned into the floor beside Grove’s corpse, and a sulfurous smell lingers in the air. Soon record producer Nigel Cutforth is also found cooked from the inside, with the imprint of a devilish face burned into the wall beside him.

Attracted by sensational news reports playing up the Satanic elements, a crowd gathers in Central Park across from Cutforth’s apartment; led by an ex-con lay preacher named Wayne P. Buck they set up tents and await Christ’s second coming. Police fear the crowd will riot unless they can penetrate the tent city and arrest Buck. Meanwhile, after briefly investigating Grove and Cutforth’s deaths in New York, Pendergast and Southampton Police Sergeant Vincent D’Agosta travel to Italy in pursuit of a wealthy aristocrat and an illegal arms dealer once associated closely with Grove.

Preston and Child’s tales usually have momentum and depth enough to allow for Pendergast’s impossible talents, but here his encyclopedic knowledge, remarkable athletic prowess and apparent clairvoyance outweigh the plot, while the tent city subplot seems contrived to include a character from previous books (and take a poke at fundamentalist Christians). Brimstone is a superficial effort compared to Preston and Child’s earlier work.