Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
An earlier series of posts examined Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s use of opening chapters in their latest Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast novel, Fever Dream. In this series, I will take a look at the authors’ use of the first three closing paragraphs in their first Gideon Crew novel, Gideon’s Sword. Since I won’t be providing more than the most cursory and pointed chapter synopses, readers who are interested in how this thriller arrives at these closing paragraphs will have to read the book, which is unlikely to be the best thing that ever happened to them, but will likely be a fairly satisfying experience.
Here’s the closing paragraph of chapter 1:
“Dad!” he screamed into the grass, trying to claw back to his feet as the weight of the world piled up on his shoulders, but he’d seen those feet move, his father was alive, he would wake up and all would be well (7).At this point in the novel, Gideon is twelve years old; he has just seen his father shot, numerous times--has seen him, in effect, assassinated by soldiers as he sought to surrender, hands up, having released his hostage. His screaming of “Dad” reinforces the father-son relationship that the chapter established earlier, and young Gideon is portrayed almost as though he is an animal: he is belly down, in the “grass,” screaming as he seeks to “claw” his way “back to his feet.” A pitiful figure, the boy is made even more so by his hope (vain hope, readers will surmise) that his father, who has been shot multiple times, will survive. This paragraph brings the chapter’s action to a climax and motivates readers to read on. It also characterizes Gideon, showing his love for his father, his desperation, and his naiveté.
As chapter 1 ends with the dying of Gideon’s father, chapter 2 concludes with the demise of his mother, who has extracted from her son, who is now twenty-two years old, the promise that Gideon will avenge his father’s murder:
Those were her last words, words that would resonate endlessly in his mind. You’ll figure out a way (13).
Her words, reiterated by the omniscient narrator in italics, become important to the authors’ characterization of Gideon as a young man who can and does perform the impossible, not only in avenging his father’s murder, but also in saving the world--or, at least, the United States. His love for his parents motivates him to plan, to scheme, to strategize, long-term and on the fly, persevering against all odds until he succeeds in attaining his objective. The deaths of his parents, whom he loves, fuels his resourcefulness, his perseverance, and his occasional ruthlessness.
Chapter 3 ends with a single-sentence conclusion:
There was only one way to find out (17).
Gideon has developed a specialized search engine that tracks hits concerning the classified document that his father had written for the government, and, during this chapter, he discovers that a hit has occurred “in a table of contents released to the National Security Archives at George Washington University” concerning his father’s “still-classified” report, “A Critique of the Thresher Discrete Logarithm Encryption Standard EVP-4: A Theoretical Back-Door Cryptanalysis Attack Strategy Using a Group of y-Torsion Points of an Elliptic Curve Characteristic y.” To most readers, myself included, this title is apt to sound impressive, despite its unintelligibility, and this effect, perhaps, is all that Preston and Child intend. For his part, despite his own mathematical aptitude, Gideon is unable to understand all of the document, although he realizes that “this [may] be the memo that General Tucker had supposedly destroyed” and the one that his father had been authored in criticism of the “Thresher” logarithm that got him killed. Given the motivations of his love for his parents and his desire to honor his mother by avenging his father’s murder, readers are likely to be convinced that Gideon will do whatever he needs to do to accomplish his mission now that he has what may be the lead he has long sought. If there is “only one way to find out” whether this is the “brass ring” he’s been seeking, readers will likely believe that Gideon will do it, whatever it is.
Note: To further strengthen Gideon’s motivation to serve his country, even after he has avenged his father’s murder, he is informed that he has but one year left to live, for he is dying of a “vein of Galen aneurismal malformation,” or “an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins in the brain involving the great cerebral vein of Galen,” a “usually congenital and usually asymptomatic” condition which is both inoperable and fatal, usually within a year or two (72-73). Given this veritable death sentence, Gideon is told, he can either “spend your last year amusing yourself, living life to the fullest, cramming it in till the end” or “working for your country” (75). That Gideon chooses the latter alternative ennobles him to readers and reinforces his motivation to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals and to serve his country.