(Originally published March 8, 2009)
Violence in film and literature is an unending source of controversy. For the most part (except for a few “discussions” with Adam) I’ve taken a middle-of-the-road approach: violence is a part of life and necessary in certain contexts – but nonetheless there is a threshold beyond which it becomes inappropriately gratuitous. As an avid reader of thrillers and suspense novels, I’ve read my share of violent murders.
But, as mentioned previously, I do have limits (“Watchmen” overstepped these). And Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s novel “Still Life with Crows” takes several large steps over that threshold of appropriate violence.
The book follows FBI Special Agent Pendergast as he investigates a series of killings in rural Kansas. And these aren’t just any murders – these are truly gruesome deaths that push the boundaries of good taste. As Pendergast learns the truth behind the outbreak of deaths, he is drawn into a mystery that dates back to an Indian massacre in the late 1800s. The book culminates in a heart-stopping chase through subterranean caverns.
“Still Life with Crows” is nowhere near as good as Preston and Child’s other works. Most of the characters are thinly drawn and only exist for the purpose of providing fodder for the murderer’s grisly work. The book is also afflicted by never-ending torrents of bad language.
But even these are minor flaws in comparison to the sheer amounts of horror and gore. I consider myself to have a strong stomach when it comes to violence in literature. Nevertheless, the killings in “Still Life with Crows” made me almost physically sick at several points. To me, it appeared almost as if the authors were trying to overstep the bounds of common decency. I wish I could say this book ended happily with a moderately satisfying resolution…but it doesn’t. In fact, the horrendous revelations of the epilogue nearly made me want to vomit. (Oh, and the graphic depiction of an animal slaughterhouse does nothing to help the situation.)
Don’t read this book. Any questions?
It’s hard to enjoy a book when it’s making you feel sick to your stomach.