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

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

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Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4) by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child

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: 76,093
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. 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, The authors welcome visitors to their alarmingly active Facebook page, where they post regularly.

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts


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.


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.

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Still Life with Crows (Special Agent Pendergast Series #4) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 267 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 10 months 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
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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