** Spoiler Alert **
This node contains spoilers for Relic, Reliquary, and The Cabinet of Curiosities.
Agent Pendergast (his first name is a closely guarded secret) is one of the protagonists in three of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's novels. He first appears in Relic, following a trail of grisly murders from his native New Orleans to New York City. He returns for the sequel Reliquary to once again guide the investigation of a series of brutal slayings. In The Cabinet of Curiousities, he is on the trail of a serial killer who operated in the latter half of the 19th century. There is definitely a pattern here, and the people who know him tend to believe Pendergast's presence always brings ill fortune to those around him.
Pendergast is a striking figure. Tall and thin, he is almost albino-pale, with white-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He speaks with a trace of a Southern accent, which only adds to his considerable charm. Despite all of this, he is still a chameleon. He can, and does, adopt whatever roles and manerisms are needed in any situation, from suave Southern gentleman to bureaucratic pencil-pusher, in the blink of an eye. The transitions are so perfect and often so abrupt that they leave his companions speechless. He is a master of disguise; in Reliquary he was able to fool both close associate Vincent D'Agosta and a large group of the tunnel-dwelling "Mole People" that he himself is the leader of a group living in the steam tunnels under a university.
A complete enigma, it isn't until his third appearance that we even learn Pendergast's initials. He receives a package from the serial killer "The Surgeon," addressed to A. X. L. Pendergast. While I suspect that the "A" and "L" stand for "Antoine" and "Leng" respectively (his great-uncle's name was Antoine Leng Pendergast), Preston and Child refuse to divulge the secret. The truth may never be known ... which goes a long way toward preserving the air of mystery that surrounds him. He keeps many of his thoughts and theories to himself, especially when what he believes is going on is too incredible for anyone else to except. He guards his emotions even closer, rarely giving anyone a peek at what he is feeling. He does not, however, suffer insults, fools, or petty bureaucrats well, and tends to let his rather sharp tongue emerge in response. Afterwards, he will often apologize (to his companions, at least), saying that taking someone to task like that is "A bad habit, but very hard to break." And it is only in the most extreme circumstances, such as the climax of Relic or after the final showdown of The Cabinet of Curiosities that he ever mentions his personal life or family.
The FBI give him a great deal of lattitude in his investigations. He was attached to the New Orleans field office, but enjoyed the freedom to travel to New York City to follow an increasingly bizarre case there. Although more than one of his colleages express surprise at this, no explanation is ever given. It could be that he has a hold over someone higher up in the Bureau or that he's just such an incredibly good investigator. Or perhaps it's his family money, of which there appears to be a considerable amount. He maintains a fantastically expensive apartment at the Dakota in New York, and travels the city in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. Except when circumstances demand otherwise, his clothing is always tailored, tasteful, and very costly.
Pendergast's interests and areas expertise are many and varied. He and his late wife used to go big game hunting, and he seems to be familiar with pretty much any kind of weapon he comes across, from pistols to grenades to flamethrowers, even explosives. This could definitely come from time he is rumored to have spent with the Special Forces in Vietnam, where he may have been the only survivor of a Cambodian death camp. He keeps abreast of developments in a wide variety of subjects, from evolutionary theory to abnormal psychology, and is well versed in history, literature, art, and music. He speaks several languages, including German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and even Latin, and you get the impression he is fluent in all of them. In short, like Hawk from Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, he pretty much knows what he needs to know at any given time, or he knows exactly where to go to find out.
In a striking parallel with Hannibal Lecter, as seen in Thomas Harris's Hannibal, Agent Pendergast is able to retreat entirely into his own mind. Where Lecter maintains an enormous "memory palace" storing everything his remarkable memory contains, Pendergast is able to create entire worlds within and interact with them as if he were really there. He uses this to excellent effect after studying maps and accounts of historical New York City. Upon digesting an enormous amount of information, he is able to travel back to 19th century New York without leaving his hospital bed and watch events as they may have occurred. He is also able to discover the secret of Dr. Leng's ultimate goal by constructing a replica of his own ancestral mansion in his mind, and comparing it to the layout of Leng's home. An impressive feat, especially considering he pulled it off while lying in an elevator that had just fallen into the basement.
Preston and Child pull all of this together into a well-developed character who is a perfect combination of Sherlock Holmes and Fox Mulder. Pendergast is a keen observer, and his encyclopedic brain allows him to interpret and correlate everything he sees swiftly. He has a great deal of expertise in several areas of science and law enforcement techniques, but he is also open to "extreme possibilities." He can be as obsessive as Mulder when on the trail of a mystery, but he plays his cards a lot closer to his vest, rather than immediately and loudly proclaiming that the implausible or impossible are true.
If three books worth of Pendergast is not enough, take heart. He seems to have become a favorite character of the authors as well, and is slated to return in their next novel, Still Life with Crows. As their website promises, "think Pendergast in Kansas."
Relic, Reliquary, and The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Official Preston-Child Web Site - http://www.prestonchild.com/
The Agent Pendergast Appreciation Site - http://cdessler.tripod.com/pendergast/pendergast.html