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Onyx reviews: Cemetery Dance by
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
There are two main kinds of zombie novels: the ones where the dead
rise en masse to take over the world, killing and eating every human they
encounter along the way, and the ones that rely on Caribbean
mythology to explain how a dead person has been reanimated. And then, of course,
there are the Scooby Doo type stores where someone wants people to
believe that a dead person has been reanimated as a cover for their nefarious
Cemetery Dance can't quite decide which kind of book it wants to be,
so it tries to have it both ways. When journalist William Smithback, a major
character from previous Preston/Child novels, is murdered in his posh Manhattan
apartment while his wife, anthropologist Nora Kelly, is conveniently out buying his favorite desert for
their first anniversary dinner, the killer's identity is no mystery. Not only do
other residents in the building recognize him as he barges out through the front
doors, but his face is captured on the surveillance system. In fact, it seems
like he deliberately wants to be recognized.
The case would be open and shut if it weren't for the fact that the supposed
killer, Colin Fearing, a resident of the same building as the Smithbacks, was
found dead two weeks before he allegedly committed the crime.
This is only one strange facet of the homicide, which Detective Vincent
D'Agosta investigates, despite the fact that Smithback was a close friend and
his emotions (primarily rage) are clouding his judgment. In most books of this
type, a police officer who rails against unfair and arbitrary decisions made by
upper management has the sympathies of the reader. Here, however, it seems like
the authors are relying on the character's history to make him sympathetic,
whereas most readers
probably agree that D'Agosta shouldn't be working this case. He manufactures
evidence, ignores procedure and anything that contradicts his theory of the
crime, tramples on civil rights, and
basically acts like he is a law until himself.
His friend and frequent collaborator, FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast, joins
him in the investigation. Pendergast is an odd duck, a thinly disguised
simulacrum of Sherlock Holmes, who talks in the stiff, erudite manner of the
famous detective, and thinks several steps ahead of everyone else on the planet.
Though he is a government agent, he seems to have the freedom to pick and choose
cases, even ones where the FBI has no business being involved.
Cemetery Dance trots out one highly improbable event after another.
Though there is precedence in Preston/Child novels for quasi-supernatural
events, which opens the door to the possibility that a zombie (or zombii, as the
pedantic Pendergast insists) is responsible for the reign of terror that leaves
several people dead, no matter how many times voodoo (or voudou) is invoked,
it's simply hard to swallow.
Even more incredible, though, is the apparent crux of the matter, a
large plot of land on the northern tip of Manhattan where a cult that practices animal
sacrifice has successfully sequestered itself from the
rest of the city since the Civil War. The two authors ask readers to believe
that this cult could simply erect a fence across a main thoroughfare
(albeit a remote one), build fences around an area that comprises several square
blocks, and generate no more notice than a few complaints about animal sounds
and reports of strange goings on, in one of the most highly populated places on
the planet. To hand wave away this improbability, the
authors imply that any city official over the years who has raised a red flag
about the area known as the Ville has suffered for his troubles.
To keep the creepiness threshold high, Pendergast imports an old friend from
the Louisiana bayous to explain all of the supernatural rigmarole and to act
suitably horrified and terrified by what he sees in the catherdral at the Ville,
which is meant to keep readers believing that there really could be zombiis
roaming the streets. In an attempt to keep D'Agosta sympathetic to readers, the
authors make his adversaries imbeciles without any redeeming characteristics.
For example, the police officer tasked with confronting a group of animal rights
advocates who plan to march on the Ville is so convinced of his rectitude that
he refuses to listen to any warnings, including those from his men on the
street. Are there really people who are that inflexible and narrow minded, and
if there are, could they possibly rise to his level of responsibility? It
doesn't seem fair of the authors to create such a one-dimensional, incredibly
wrong-minded man. Flawed characters are far more interesting when readers can
identify with them at some level, perhaps even sympathize with them slightly.
Readers can only scorn and disdain this particular officer.
By contrast, the man who is ultimately revealed to be the villain is not only
nefarious and amoral, he is granted special powers to anticipate every move by
the people he is attempting to thwart, as well as seemingly free access to
secure places, such as the police morgue. His minions are so blinded by greed
that they apparently can't foresee the logical outcome of their roles in the
Cemetery Dance does contain one clever bit of plotting that ties
together seemingly disparate elements late in the book, but the rest of it is
contrived, artificial and superficial. These two authors are capable of writing
excellent thrillers—Relic was a very good book—but they
aren't at the top of their game here.
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