cover image Thunderhead


Douglas J. Preston. Warner Books, $32 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-446-52337-0

The adventure is marginally higher than the suspense in Preston and Child's sturdy new tale of scientific derring-do, concerning a search for Quivira, the legendary Anasazi Indian City of Gold. With four high-concept thrillers behind them, from 1995's Relic to last year's Riptide, the authors know what buttons to push and levers to yank--perhaps too well. The novel has a clockwork feel, from its first tick--the spooky stalking of archeologist Nora Kelly on an isolated New Mexican ranch--to its last tock. Playing it safe, Preston and Child take no missteps as Nora finds an old letter from her long-missing father with clues to Quivira's location; leads an expedition of central-casting types (a leathery old cowboy, a beautiful female photographer, the jokey journalist who figured in Relic and Reliquary, etc.); after much difficulty, discovers Quivira, which is revealed as a repository of ancient evil; and encounters death by way of the Native American witches who threatened her at the novel's start. It's all predictable but rarely dull. The authors display deep affection for the pulp they're recycling, talent for exciting set pieces--a hazardous ascent along a ridge toward Quivira and the flash-flooding of the canyon harboring the city are showcases of action writing--and, always their ace, the ability to infuse every aspect of their story with authentic techno-scientific lore. This is a novel in which the archeological niceties of ancient black-on-yellow micaceous pottery are as important to plot as the caliber of the gun the heroine wields. Fans of the authors' similarly inspired, and similarly metronomic, scientific textbooks-cum-thrillers should find this one much to their taste. Simultaneous audio. (July)