Even though it is better than recent offerings, Blue Labyrinth ultimately fails to break free from the established Preston & Child formula. It starts with a slow build up, the plot takes several shocking twists and turns, and then the last ¼ of the book is a race against time as the previously hidden adversaries reveal their identities and our various heroes fight tooth and nail to overcome and survive. It’s exciting and quite fun but ends up as not much more than a beach or airport read.
Blue Labyrinth starts when one evening Alban Pendergast (the wayward, evil son of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast with a backstory that is literally 3 books long) is found on Aloysius’s doorstep quite dead. Considering readers had been lead to believe Alban was going to be the next big ongoing villain of the series (replacing Pendergast’s own brother, Diogenes) this revelation is shocking and immediately gets your attention. As the brilliant and enigmatic Agent Pendergast tries to unravel the mystery of his son’s death, NYPD Lt. Detective Vincent D’Agosta – back from his honeymoon with Laura Hayward – is investigating yet another murder in what has to be the most deadly building on Earth; the (fictitious) New York Museum of Natural History.
Since both crimes are bizarre with no clear answers it is obvious the cases are connected. It is a testament to Preston & Child’s skill that how the crimes intersect is one of the more satisfying aspects of this outing. Soon Pendergast realizes the motive behind the murders lies – as tends to be the case – in the Pendergast family’s shady and notorious past. This leads to the aforementioned race against time to stop the evil doers, save a loved one and stack up many dead bodies in the meantime.
One of the strengths of Blue Labyrinth is it is not a Pendergast-only affair. Series regulars Margo Green and Lt. D’Agosta are both front and center to the action for this go around and their shared experiences makes the drama more involving. After the so called “museum murders” detailed in Relic, and almost being murdered by Diogenes in Dance of Death, Margo understandably has an acute fear of the museum basement and has been changed by her harrowing experiences. Naturally through the course of the story we know she will be forced to face those fears again but I liked that the writers maintained their character history and explored how all of Margo’s terrifying past experiences could take a toll on her psyche.
Even more than D’Agosta and Margo the big stand out character is Constance Greene, Pendergast’s ward and closest confidant. After hinting at what Constance is capable of for several books now this is the one where we finally see her unleashed and oh my God is she a force to be reckoned with. Her weapon of choice is horrific yet apt and she uses it with relish.
While starting strong and hinting at a mystery Pendergast may not be able to solve, Blue Labyrinth ultimately ends on a predictable note. Nothing is really changed, and what has changed doesn’t appear to have much bearing on future installments other than the “reset” removing Alban from the series. As always it’s pleasant to hang out with the characters and see them paired up in new ways. The returning Margo Green joining forces with Constance is an unexpected duo and, though brief, great fun while it lasts.
Blue Labyrinth isn’t the best of the series or the worst. It’s a gripping thriller that unfortunately relies on formula too much to be truly memorable.