I had to read the sequel to Gideon’s Sword, as much to see whether Preston and Child had improved the new series with this, their second novel in the Gideon sequence, as to find out whether the hero was indeed facing a terminal disease or whether that was just a lie constructed by a behind-the scenes semi-private agency to manipulate him into becoming their super-agent against his will. I found out that the authors had somehow managed to produce another fun read, whose plot was however just as improbable and, unfortunately, just as poorly constructed as the first novel, and that Gideon’s illness is … well, I’ll leave that revelation to the die-hard Preston and Child fans who will read this book no matter what.
In this novel, Gideon is dragged into an apparent hostage situation, where a former colleague from the Los Alamos nuclear lab where Gideon works is holding a family at gunpoint. The guy eventually dies in a hail of bullets, but is discovered to be highly-radioactive. The powers-that-be conclude that the guy, a recently-converted Muslim, had in fact been building a nuclear bomb for Islamic jihadists, and panic begins to spread across the country and, more importantly, across Washington, as every government enforcement agency is brought in to establish protection/evacuation scenarios for potential targets ranging from the White House to the Hoover Dam. The real terrorist scenario is quite different, however, and the bad guys pulling the strings have, in fact, wrapped themselves in the American flag. It falls to Gideon and a slightly rogue FBI agent to save the day.
As plots go, this one seems interesting enough – until one gets into the details of the story and that’s where things go badly off the rails. Gideon jumps around like the ball in a pin-ball machine, careening from city to city and situation to situation, surviving repeated death-traps with skills that even James Bond couldn’t claim, having romantic interludes and making enemies, and yet somehow saving the day against impossible—I repeat, impossible!—odds. Worst of all is the ending, a schlock anti-climax unworthy of these authors.
Immediately after reading Gideon’s Corpse, I read Preston & Child’s Cold Vengeance (review to follow), the latest in their Pendergast series, and was struck by the dramatic difference in quality between the two. While I won’t go so far as one reviewer, who concluded that the Gideon series had actually been written by one of the author’s wannabe-writer offspring, I do think that Preston and Child may have been lured by Hollywood into producing a series of novels designed for film—which would go far to explain the ultimate absurdity of the plots, the implausibility of the characters, and the generally slapdash writing. Now that I think of it, the Pendergast novels contain equally wild plots, but somehow the characters –even the superhuman hero of the series—are more appealing and the writing much richer and more compelling. Go figure!