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"From the first page, STILL LIFE WITH CROWS is creepy, disturbing, and altogether fascinating: Preston and Child at their best."—Salem Statesman Journal (OR)
"Highly entertaining . . . a creepy, well-plotted novel . . . Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's trademark mix of mystery, suspense, horror, and history proves to be a combination that works."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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.
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.
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Posted May 29, 2008
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.
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Posted December 12, 2004
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.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2012
Posted February 24, 2010
Still life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Sheriff Dert Hazen z man set his ways does not appreciate any interference especially from Pendergast. But of course the intrepid FBI Agents talk about there opinions as he goes after clues in an attempt to unlock the key to murders which may be from some historical events. I haven't finished yet but this is a very good book I recommend it to any reader.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 21, 2010
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!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 19, 2014
Posted January 19, 2014
Posted January 17, 2014
Posted January 10, 2014
As a dyed in the wool Pendergast fan, I have read all of the books. Still Life with Crows is unequivocally the best of the lot! The story line is intriguing and written with the usual Preston & Child details that make you feel as if you are actually living the experience. Parts of this book had me literally turning pages as fast as I could. Character development is to their usual high standard and an engaging new character is introduced in this book. Best of all,the ending was totally unexpected and just blew me away. I've gotten fairly good at predicting the endings, but this one was so surprising that I still think about it. I'm intentionally not including details of this book so I won't spoil the best ride ever on the Pendergast train!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2013
Posted July 22, 2013
I was hooked from the very beginning of "Still Life With Crows", and I especially love it when Special Agent Pendergast is involved! Exceptionally written suspense, adding the right amount of real history, folklore, corporate greed, prejudice, hidden secrets in a small rural town, & the twists and turns of an unstable mind makes this a wonderful thriller I could not put down. The conclusion left me completely stunned, and, of course, put all the bizarre events into perfect sense!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 7, 2013
Sometimes it is tiring to have the need to go into catacombs, caves, tunnels, deep basements, and sewers in each story.
The books are still enjoyable. I am reading the series in order, though it is not needed by how these are written. There are only brief references to other of Pendergast's cases.
I enjoy some of the carry over of the characters. It breeds a comfortable familiarity.
Posted January 23, 2013
Posted January 22, 2013
This is the first Preston and Childs book I've read. I loved it. Iam halfway through Cabinet of Curiosities and just ordered Relic and Reliquary! I am looking forward to reading them all.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2012
In my opinion, this is the 3rd best Pendergast book behind Relic and Brimstone. I'm fascinated by small towns, so I enjoyed seeing Pendergast transposed into one. Though I thought the story ended up being a little weak, it was gripping from the start and I mostly liked Pendergast's interactions with the townsfolk. I just thought Pendergast started drifting over from quirkiness to goofiness.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2012
Highly recommend you get to know Pendergast; waiting anxiously for the pre-order of TWO GRAVES coming out early December...l think it's important to read FEVER DREAM and COLD VENGEANCE first.
Hope these wonderful authors will write more stories including Pendergast & Lieutenant D'Agosta. Would like to hear more about Viola & whether she will become his love interest.
Posted June 2, 2012
I have read all of the Agent Pendergast books and this ismy favorite. It can be read on its own, so if you have not read the others, it should not be a problem. I liked the characters and it was just a bit scary. I almost needed to sleep with a light on! This is a book I suggest to people when they ask for a book reccomendation.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2012
Posted May 21, 2012
Posted April 20, 2012
As an avid reader of the Pendergast series, this was a little surprising, but in a good way. I've come to associate Agent Pendergast with big cities and enormous museums, so I was a bit apprehensive about small-town mystery. Have no fear, this book lives up to the quality of all of Preston & Child books, and then some. Growing up in small-town USA made this even more scary for me (I've only recently stopped having nightmares). A great read - fast-paced, suspenseful, full of twists and turns, and with a touching look at a different, more fatherly/mentoring side of Agent Pendergast than we've seen before. Lovers of crime fiction, suspense, Pendergast, Preston and Child, you won't be disappointed!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.