Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
The fourteenth chapter of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Fever Dream is the shortest so far. Its purpose is purely utilitarian: to involve someone (protagonist Pendergast, as it turns out) in conversation. The chapter’s tagline informs the reader that the scene is “Penumbra Plantation,” which is Pendergast’s home:
“Would you care for another cup of tea, sir?” (74)Although the speaker is as-yet unidentified, the one line of dialogue, a question, posed in media res, one might suspect that he is Pendergast’s factotum, Maurice, as, indeed, it proves to be.
The opening paragraph for Chapter 15 is longer. Preceded by a tagline that identifies the setting as “Rockland, Maine,” we are in a tavern with D’Agosta, a place that appears to be much like the lieutenant himself, in three particulars, at least. There is no reason to assume that the detective is “cheap,” but, otherwise, he is much like the tavern: “honest, unassuming, working class.” However, his state of mind prevents him from identifying much with the place, and he is in no mood to share a few rounds with the tavern’s local patrons:
Under ordinary circumstances, The Salty Dog Tavern would have been just the kind of bar Vincent D’Agosta liked: honest, unassuming, working class, and cheap. But these were not ordinary conditions. He had flown or driven among four cities in as many days; he missed Laura Hayward; and he was tired, bone-tired. Maine in February was not exactly charming. The last thing he felt like doing at the moment was hoisting beers with a bunch of fishermen (77).Of course, if “the last thing he felt like doing at the moment was hoisting beers with a bunch of fishermen ,” why, the reader must wonder, is the detective in a tavern with such patrons? This simple, seemingly throw-away comment on the omniscient narrator’s part whets the reader’s curiosity. To find the answer to this implied question, the reader will have to continue to read. Preston and Child have, once more, demonstrated their skill in manipulating the reader so well and smoothly that the reader is not likely to realize that he or she has been manipulated into continuing to read the novel.
We all enjoy time to ourselves, especially after a busy day at work, so we can easily sympathize (in “New Orleans,” as the chapter’s tagline indicates) with Desmond Tipton’s desire to enjoy his own solitude after “the visitors [have] gone and he is alone, once more, in the museum in which he works:
Desmond Tipton liked this time of day more than any other, when the doors were shut and barred, the visitors gone, and every little thing in its place. It was the quiet period, from five to eight, before the drink [sic] tourists descended on the French Quarter like the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan, infesting the bars and jazz joints, swilling Sazeracs to oblivion. He could hear them outside every night, their boozy voices, and infantile caterwauling only partly muffled by the ancient walls of the Audubon Cottage (84).Again, the authors’ description of a place also serves to typify a character. Tipton, a museum worker (possibly the curator) is more at home among things than he is among people; in the Audubon Cottage, things are safe (“the doors are shut and barred”), “quiet,” and orderly (“every little thing [is] in its place”). The Cottage is charming, because of its serenity and peace, but it is also charming because of its art, its culture, and even its age. At home in the museum, the metaphors upon which Tipton’s thoughts are constructed tend toward the ancient, the artistic, and the cultural. He sees the revelers of the French Quarter as invading barbarians, as “the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan.” Tipton is obviously an educated and cultured man and a man who, as such, fears the “hordes” of drunken “tourists” who disturb his own peace as they swarm “the bars and jazz joints,” drinking cocktails “to oblivion,” but not before disturbing the general peace with their “boozy voices, whoops, and infantile caterwauling,” which not even the wonders of Audubon’s Cottage can keep at bay for long; the din is “only partly muffled by the ancient walls of Audubon Cottage” (84). It will be interesting to see with whom Tipton interacts--the drunken “tourists” who behave “like the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan,” a low-life who lives in the vicinity, or someone of a more sophisticated and cultured air, such as Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.