Beach House Reads: 'The Wheel of Darkness' by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

THE WHEEL OF DARKNESS by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Encapsulate the book in one (spoilerish) sentence?
FBI Agent / Holmesian archetype plus mysterious female companion, tasked by reclusive Tibetan monks to chase after stolen Armageddon-engendering artefact, find themselves aboard a cruise liner crossing the Atlantic, with only seven days to catch a killer, avoid a catastrophe at sea and foil the smoke monster sent by the anti-Buddha.

When did I buy it? Where and why did I buy it?
It’s a charity shop copy that has hung around a couple of years on various reading stacks. I’ve had the vague notion of trying Lincoln and Child again for a little while after reading one previous novel. The Beach House project has bumped me into doing so – thankfully.

Why is it something you stashed away and hoarded?
I think ‘Reliquary’ struck me as too long and over-complicated –despite some marvelous set-pieces. I couldn’t get the ‘hang’ of the series when I read my last / first one (back in 2007, the year ‘Wheel of Darkness’ was published.) I wished I’d persevered and got the measure of the Pendergast novels sooner. This is a series I would love to read as and when the books come out.

I’m delighted that the authors provide an afterword for this book, reassuring us that – though all their books are interlinked and take place in the same universe with lots of character-bleed – we can read the series in any old order we fancy. That’s a great thing to be told. Any series worth its salt tries to give reader hopping-on points with every book, and explains all the back-story we’ll ever need in the most entertaining way available. That’s what the novel series biz is all about.)

What year or edition?
A tatty Orion paperback from 2007. Their covers make these books look – rather unfortunately – like all the knock-offs of Dan Brown that you see everywhere. This would put me off straight away if I was coming to these authors new.

What’s your verdict?
I just loved it. Every moment of it. I’m not a big reader of thrillers. Global conspiracy / slightly mystic / FBIesque thrillers can make me despair (see my review of ‘Sanctus’ recently.) But this… there’s something like catnip in the writing. It’s suddenly like Sherlock Holmes is having thumpingly good mysterious adventures in the present day with monsters and killers in exotic locales.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
I had to move to a kindle version – again! – halfway through. The copy from the Beach House was a tiny pulpy paperback, with miniscule print. It was such a relief to snap it up on kindle. (But am I defeating the purpose of the Beach House project by buying these buggers twice?)

What genre would you say it is?
Mystic thriller; classic whodunit; monster disaster movie.

What surprises did it hold – if any?
Many! Almost on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The twists are pretty good – and the switch-backing from genre to genre is fantastic. The authors crank up the tension by being completely unafraid to bring in elements from all kinds of genres. As if a prolific serial killer caught up in a high speed collision between vast ships mid-Atlantic wasn’t enough, let’s throw in rare art theft, adventures with Buddhism and an evil smoke monster, too!

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
The man who clings to the outside of the bridge window in the teeth of the storm, trying to talk sense into the mutineering captain as she pilots the ocean liner towards the deadly Carrion Rocks..! While she’s possessed and implacable, he’s hanging on by his fingernails for dear life itself…

Have you read anything else by this author? Or anything this book reminds you of?
Their first novel – the museum lock-in monsterfest that is ‘The Relic’ was made into one of my favourite movies of the 1990s. I read the sequel, ‘Reliquary’ about seven years ago. I enjoyed it, but questions of reading order and the changes between book series and the movie I loved confused me. Pendergast was removed from the film, but is the focus of most of the books. My own confusion ended up putting me off exploring the series further, until now.

What will you do with this copy now?
I’m going to send it to Stuart and tell him to read it at once because I think he’ll enjoy it.

Is it available today?
Yes, all the Lincoln & Child books are widely available as real and virtual books. They are less well known, perhaps, in the UK than they ought to be.

Give me a good quote:
‘Excuse me for speaking frankly, Captain, but we’ve got a brutal murderer roaming on board this ship. If this Pendergast is to be believed, the man’s killed three people already. The passengers are freaking out, half of them are hiding in their cabins, and the rest are getting drunk in the lounges and casinos. And now it seems we’ve got some kind of mass hysteria building, talk of an apparition roaming the ship. Our security director has as much as admitted the situation is beyond his control. Under the circumstances, don’t you think we should seriously consider diversion?’