Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child,
Still Life with Crows
(Time Warner, 2003)

The Cabinet of Curiosities -- an audiobook written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, read by Rene Auberjonois -- is one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to. The combination of superb writing and expert storytelling makes this an audiobook that listeners will want to hear more than once. Feeling as such, it was with eager anticipation that I dove in to Still Life With Crows. Once again, the writers team up with this master of vocal disguises. Could this new offering reach the heights of the previous audiobook?

Medicine Creek, Kansas, is a small community of a few hundred souls. Surrounded by many, many square miles of corn, the town is practically in the middle of nowhere. In a place where nothing exciting ever happens, the residents are in for a shock when a murder victim is found just within Medicine Creek's boundaries. The body was found displayed in a ritualistic fashion, surrounded by dead crows impaled on arrows staked in the ground so that the birds were facing the victim. Not surprisingly, many theories pop up to explain the situation.

Before long, FBI Special Agent Pendergast arrives in town. Those of you familiar with The Cabinet of Curiosities know that Pendergast uses unorthodox methods when investigating cases of a type one might find on The X-Files. He is not exactly a "by-the-book" detective. The main theory in town seems to revolve around the legendary "Curse of the Forty-fives." This curse dates back to frontier days when a band of Indian ghost warriors appeared out of nowhere to kill all but one of a group of 45 white settlers who had been raiding local Indian camps. The later disappearance of the Indians, their horses and their dead without a trace has never been explained.

As more bodies are discovered, the race is on to determine if the ghost warriors have returned or if a serial killer, as Pendergast claims, has found a new haunt. With the help of the resident misfit, 18-year-old, purple-haired Corrie Swanson, Pendergast interacts with an antagonistic sheriff and quirky townsfolk to discover the truth. Many surprises are in store for the listener as the tale unfolds.

As I stated in my review for The Cabinet of Curiosities, Auberjonois might be known from his roles on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Benson, but his ability to vocalize a multitude of characters -- from a gruff sheriff to an old lady to the gentlemanly Southern Pendergast -- is uncanny. I would almost swear there was more than one storyteller if the liner notes didn't list him as the only one.

Co-authors Preston and Child have released several novels together including The Relic and Riptide. Preston also writes for New Yorker magazine. His background includes stints at the American Museum of Natural History and teaching English at Princeton University. Child, previously a book editor, was also a systems analyst at one point.

If you like to listen to a good murder-mystery, I don't see how you could go wrong picking up a copy of Still Life With Crows. Auberjonois has a way with storytelling such that he could probably read the ingredients off a package of processed food and make it sound interesting. While I figured out the origin of the murders well before the end of the book, I still enjoyed this tale. I recommend it without hesitation. Let us just hope that these three team up again in the not too distant future.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 27 March 2004

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