Aloysius Pendergast’s vacation just wants a vacation with his ward, Constance Greene, when the new assistant director of the FBI, Walter Pickett, interrupts to send him on the most baffling case of his career. Over a hundred disembodied feet wash ashore on Sanibel Island, Florida, each wearing identical green shoes.
Pendergast agrees to take the case, with the caveat that Pickett will allow him to use his own substantial latitude in the investigation, unlike the handicap of regulations he was required to conform to in the last book, Verses for the Dead. Part of this “latitude” translates into recalling his partner in the previous case, Agent Coldmoon, who is still recovering from his injuries suffered in line of duty.
The tension is broken somewhat early in the book by a humorous scene where the Coast Guard Commander Baugh, who is the nominal head of the task force investigating, decides to cross into Cuban waters to get surveillance footage of possible beheadings related to the source of the feet. Unfortunately for the commander but fortunately for averting an international incident, the “beheadings” he allegedly witnesses is actually a volleyball game between prisoners and guards in a Cuban prison.
Forensic evidence soon reveals that all the amputations are self-inflicted, which raises even more questions as to why? What could possess these people, who are discovered to be immigrants trying to illegally cross into the US from Guatemala, to cause them all to sever one of their own feet in an eerily similar manner?
Each chapter takes a different point of view as a number of subplots and interactions between various characters, major and minor, add to the increasing complexity of the overall story line. The authors, Preston and Child, have long mastered this style; often writing alternate chapters (according to their shared website.)
Three quarters into the story, the authors reveal that the title takes its name form a location in the Florida Panhandle, a river near the site of a trench where the feet were stored, and carried away during a flood. What will the investigators, separated by different branches on inquiry, learn about this hidden location, and will they be able to stop this horrible fate from happening to anyone else? The answers lie in a quasi-military base conducting banned experiments with psychotropic drugs.
I don’t want to give any more spoilers, but I will say that this novel equals any of the best previous in the Pendergast series, and there are hints of another epic book to come as Pickett plays interference again in the final chapter of Crooked River.
I award this book five stars and recommend this series to any readers of police procedurals, thrillers, and even paranormal detective stories, though those particular elements are light in this book. The story could well be enjoyed by those not familiar with the series, but some nuances will escape those who have not read previous volumes, so consider going back and reading more of the series.