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

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

4.4 264
by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child

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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.


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.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post, 7/21/03
smart, skillful writers who have fun spinning their tall tale....you'll have fun reading it.
The Washington Post
Strange doings, but Preston and Child are smart, skillful writers who have fun spinning their tall tale, and if you enjoy things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thrillers, you'll have fun reading it. — Patrick Anderson
Publishers Weekly
This latest Preston and Child thriller, even in abbreviated form, offers gore galore, mutilations, bizarre ritual murders, an obstreperous sheriff, a young woman in jeopardy, a town consumed by terror and a spooky local legend-in short, an abundance of traditional suspense novel ingredients. Compensating for this apparent lack of imagination is the thriller's remarkable hero, Special Agent Pendergast, who's on leave from the FBI. This somewhat ethereal, cerebral specialist in macabre murders is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mulder of The X-Files, but with his courtly Southern manner and combat expertise, he's very much his own man. Narrator Auberjonois, a familiar stage and screen presence, uses an appropriately silky accent and a playfully sarcastic tone for Pendergast. Auberjonois is equally successful with the other characters, especially the hard-headed but good-hearted Sheriff Dent Hazen, who emerges as a Wilfred Brimley minus the bluster; 18-year-old town rebel Corrie Swanson; and the killer, whose method of communication would challenge any vocal interpreter. Equally important, Auberjonois narrates the tale with the sort of mesmerizing intensity that can, and does, turn a fairly familiar yarn into a scary campfire chillfest. Simultaneous release with the Warner hardcover (Forecasts, June 2). (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Our favorite mysterious FBI Agent Pendergast returns from his last adventure (Cabinet of Curiosities), arriving in tiny Medicine Creek, KS, just in time to investigate a series of gruesome murders. Life in rural Medicine Creek usually revolves around the local turkey-processing plant and growing corn, but all hell breaks loose when a female corpse is found in a clearing in a cornfield, surrounded by a ring of dead crows impaled on arrows. Things only get worse when a second body is displayed in another clearing, just a few feet from the horribly mauled, crumpled figure of local drifter Lonny Gasparilla-his thumb torn off and his hair pulled out by the roots. Gasparilla's dying breath names his attacker as the devil with the face of a child, and Agent Pendergast is immersed in another case rife with myth, the supernatural, and an over-the-top monstrous killer. The Preston-Child team scores another big winner, perfect for the summer; highly recommended for all popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/03.]-Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Holmesian FBI Special Agent Pendergast returns, silver-eyed and cadaverous as ever, to take on a bizarre serial murder case in the cornfields of Kansas. Pendergast’s genius could easily be more gripping than his vehicles, but so far—as with 1995’s Relic—such has not been the case. Showing that two minds research more richly than one, Preston and Childs bring literary flair to opening pages that suggest we’re walking into a virtual-reality painting of Kansas cornfields at sunset with turkey vultures circling above something dead. A cow perhaps? So thinks Sheriff Dent Hazen as he plows through endless, towering rows of bio-enhanced corn. But he finds instead a partly scalped female body in ripped clothes set into a 30-foot circle where the corn has been cropped, her splayed form encircled by dead crows jammed onto upright Indian arrows. So artistic! State troopers arrive to help Hazen, but GPS shows that the corpse falls within Hazen’s jurisdiction at Medicine Creek, a town well on the way down, its farmhouses mainly abandoned (thanks to bioengineering) and even the workforce at the slaughterhouse cut to pieces. Out of the dawn arrives the spectral Pendergast, off-duty but attracted by the serial murderer. But there’s only one body, says the sheriff. Pendergast smiles, sort of. And indeed, soon a bloated dead dog, its tail ripped off, appears, to be followed by another body, scalped entirely: a slaughterhouse worker boiled, buttered, and sugared, the skin flopping off his corpse. Where could the killer have found a cauldron big enough to boil a corpse? And why? Pendergast hires a purple-haired teenager with a tongue ring to be his assistant—and for the authors to put in perilwhen the monster at last shows up, all hairy and barefoot, in totally unexplored Kraus Kaverns, tunnels second in size only to the famed Carlsbad cave system, for a very long climax in varied avenues of darkness and bottomless pits. Yummy beach reading.
From the Publisher
"Smart, skillful writers who have fun spinning their tall tale, and if you enjoy things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thrillers, you'll have fun reading it."—Washington Post Book World"

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

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Special Agent Pendergast Series , #4
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.32(d)

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.


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.

Meet 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. Preston's acclaimed nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a movie starring George Clooney. 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.

Brief Biography

Place of Birth:
Cambridge, Massachusetts
B.A., Pomona College, 1978

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Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 264 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!
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book with a bit of a twist at the end. I really enjoyed the book but I could have done without the obvious and gratuitous scene from the turkey factory describing in graphic detail the processing of a Butterball. If you want to rant about such things, go ahead but it has no place in this venue. With that overlooked, this could possibly be the best of this series. It didn't seem to drag on like the others and it created interest through an unusual and hard-to-predict plot. I could almost give it a 5, but not quite. Maybe I am too picky, but a 5 book is rare because it has to be perfect and could in no way be improved. Again though, it was close. Stephanie Clanahan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of the AGENT PENDERGAST series. Unfortunately, I read White Fire, before I read Stlii Life With Crows. The similarities are not what I expected from these talented writers. In fact this particular book racked my nerves severly. It was hard to finish, tedious, and not very entertaining. I really looked forward to purchasing this book. I couldn't wait to read it, and now I am sorely regretting this purchase. I still think highly of Preston and Child , but i am quite hesitant about my next purchase. Time to check out other authors. Time to move on.
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Keep pendergast coming. Cant get enough of him
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite of the Pendergast series.  Hard to put down.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JKHill More than 1 year ago
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!
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