Aloysius Pendergast, the Modern Sherlock Holmes

Aloysius Pendergast is on another case, and the game is afoot.

Pendergast is the Sherlock Holmes of the 21st century, and authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are doing a pretty good job of bringing the quintessential Victorian gentleman into modern times.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, needs no introduction. The world's first and some would argue best "consulting detective," Holmes first appeared on the scene in 1873, with "The Gloria Scott." Well, that is, if we go by the events of Sherlock's life. His writer, Arthur Conan Doyle, first began to pen the tales of his exploits in 1887, with "A Study in Scarlet." The events of "The Gloria Scott" take place while Sherlock was still an undergraduate (at a university his nominal biographer, Dr. John H. Watson, never revealed).

In all 56 stories chronicaling the career of the eccentric and brilliant sleuth, we are treated to Holmes' curious and captivating detection methods, and his peculiar, and singular personality. Over time, Holmes has become iconic - the definitive detective. And not just because he was the first - Conan Doyle is credited with having "invented" the detective novel. Mostly, Holmes' popularity lies in how convincing he is as a character. As odd, unusual, and quirky as he is, he is above all believable, even while he is impossibly determining the route a visitor took to his Baker Street lodgings by examining the mud on his shoes.

Needless to say, Sherlock has been re-done, updated, and one-upped almost from the moment he took his first bow.

But not until FBI agent Aloysius X. L Pendergast has a character succeeded in coming close to the mystique of Sherlock Holmes.

Based in New Orleans, Pendergast is not very forthcoming about his past, though we do know that he is a man of independent - and significant - means, and impecable taste. And we know that his brother - named Diogenes, with a wink at Holmes' brother Mycroft, who spends his leisure hours at the gentlemen's club, The Diogenes Club - plays an important role in not only unfolding events in Pendergast's life, but also, in its hidden past.

Pendergast and Holmes share more than an interest in mysteries, and an almost preternatural skill in solving them. Like Holmes, Pendergast is tall and thin, but very strong, with long, tapered fingers and piercing eyes. He is not, stictly speaking, handsome, but moves with feline grace, and dresses with a unique sense of style.

More significantly Pendergast shares Holmes' ability to shapeshift - to create disguises so authentic that his very bones seem to adapt to the character he is playing. Even his best friend - in Holmes' case, the ever-faithful Dr. Watson, and in Pendergast's case, his devoted Vincent D'Agosta (NYPD) - can be fooled by the perfection of his masquerades.

Like Holmes, Pendergast's home is as unique as his personality. While Holmes lives in the cluttered and jumbled rooms of a Victorian bachelor with a penchant for newspapers and chemistry, Pendergast has made a home in an apparently abandoned Beaux Arts mansion at 891 Riverside Drive in New York City. While Holmes clients often introduce their cases as visitors to his rooms, few of Pendergast's acquiantances know where he lives, much less receive an invitation to visit. Pendergast is pulled into cases largely because of his connection to the FBI.
Like Holmes, Pendergast approaches his cases with an artist's insights, and an engineer's love for detail and gadgetry.

We first meet Pendergast in the novel, RELIC, in which he investigates a series of strange murders and an almost supernatural beast living in the bowels of the New York Museum of Natural History. Pendergast is not technically the hero of RELIC, but clearly became a favorite of readers, and he is introduced again and again into Preston and Childs collaborations until they finally devote a trio of tales to him as hero, in which we learn more about the mysterious man and what makes him who he is.

The first of the triology is BRIMSTONE (and in my opinion, the best) in which Pendergast teams up with D'Agosta to investigate some grisly and puportedly supernatural murders. In the course of the story, we learn than the murders are not only not random - but are mysteriously connected to Pendergast's equally brilliant - and very disturbed - sibling.

In the second book, DANCE OF DEATH, Pendergast's diabolically insane brother attempts to pull off the "perfect crime," incriminating his brother as the perpetrator - and using all those dear to him as victims.

In the final book of the triology BOOK OF THE DEAD, Diogenes attempts to complete his thwarted plot, using the re-opening of the cursed Tomb of Senef at the New York Museum of Natural History as a setting.

Using inspired logic, a storehouse of unusual facts, training in the rarer forms of the martial arts, and a single-minded obsession with solving the puzzle, Pendergast is about what you would imagine Sherlock Holmes would have been, were he to be born in 1960 rather than the 1800s. Though focussed on "honor, and doing the right thing," both characters are more than willing to bend, even break the law in pursuit of the truth, and both exhibit an arrogant sureness - and a slightly self-absorbed penchant for withholding clues from compatriots until the entire mystery is solved.

And neither character is particularly successful with women. Whether this is due to a hinted-at preference, or a lack of the necessary skills, is left murky. For each man, though, there is a special and mostly unattainable female held tantalizingly just out of reach. (Bot Watson and D'Agosta, on the other hand, get to "get the girl.")

For any fan of Sherlock Holmes, who has read and re-read the chronicles of that detective, and wishes vainly for more, give Aloysius Pendergast a try. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.


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