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Literature / Brimstone

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"The cloven hoofprint burned into the floor told her everything she needed to know. The devil had finally come for Jeremy Grove."

Brimstone is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child first published in 2004. It is part of their informal Agent Pendergast series and the first novel in the Diogenes trilogy.

A string of murders among the wealthy and elite draws Pendergast to investigate. When the cause of death seems to be burning from the inside, and satanic images appear at the deaths, people begin to wonder if the devil really has appeared in modern day New York and is collecting his dues.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Count Fosco.
  • Asshole Victim: Fosco points out that the people he killed were wastes of humanity and he probably did the world a favor.
  • Boring, but Practical: While creeping through an abandoned dynamite factory once owned by Alfred Nobel, Pendergast remarks on the irony that atomic bombs get all the hype, but dynamite has killed and maimed exponentially more people since its invention.
  • Buried Alive: Fosco walls up Pendergast at the end of the novel, which he admits is "something out of Poe." Pendergast is subsequently freed by Diogenes.
  • The Bus Came Back: D'Agosta has returned from his failed writing career and had to take a job that bumps him down two ranks to Sergeant. Laurea Hayward also returns after her first appearance in Reliquary
  • The Butler Did It: Fosco's butler committed half of the murders so the Count could provide an alibi.
  • The Casanova: The last musician known to have the Stormcloud was a notorious womanizer. He succumbed to brain damage caused by syphilis, went crazy and fled the owners of the violin.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Count Fosco mentions reading The Woman in White...despite being a full blown reference to a character from that novel.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Count Fosco's tinkering. D'Agosta's brushing up on his shooting skills.
  • The Chessmaster: Fosco plans every minute detail to deliver master strokes at any possibility.
  • Continuity Nod: At one point Pendergast and D'Agosta have to question a group of impoverished men, and recall their meeting with Mephisto in Reliquary
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The first half of the novel has Bullard acting as the main antagonist before killing him and revealing Fosco as the Big Bad, having been manipulating Bullard's actions.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: D'Agosta unknowingly sees Diogenes while escaping his pursuers. Diogenes then rescues Pendergast in the epilogue.
  • Formerly Fit: At the beginning of the novel, D'Agosta is not in the physical condition he used to be, and his aim is rusty. He gets himself back together by the end.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Von Menck believes the murders are a predictor that a natural correction is coming to wipe the corruption of the world away. This is a Red Herring.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: D'Agosta sneaks back to Fosco's mansion and kills him with the microwave death ray he used for his plan.
  • Human Shield: Bullard's mooks strategically position a bunch of kids as a human shield against the Chinese. They don't care.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: When D'Agosta brings the Italian police back to Fosco's estate, every bit of evidence he and Pendergast had been there has been erased. The count even manages to apply cobwebs to the room they had supposedly stayed in and engraves his own family crest onto Pendergast's necklace.
  • Laser Hallway: The security system surrounding Bullard's factory. Aside from motion and weight sensors at the fence and booby traps throughout, an entire field is equipped with lasers that Pendergast and D'Agosta must crawl through (Pendergast using cigarette smoke to identify where the beam is). The space for them to avoid the beams is justified, as wild boar roam the area and the grid is specifically designed to pass over their backs and trip for a walking man.
  • Love at First Sight: Pendergast and Viola are both taken with each other upon their first meeting. It's obvious enough that D'Agosta immediately catches on just by looking at them.
  • MacGuffin: The killer is after the Stradivarius violin, Stormcloud.
  • Mad Scientist: Fosco and his tinkering, which becomes much more sinister.
  • Master of Disguise: Pendergast shows up on the scene of the first murder dressed like a tourist and D'Agosta takes quite some time to recognize him.
  • Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Pendergast begs Fosco to let him go. Not for his own life, but so he can save the world from Diogenes. He even swears he'll return and let the count kill him once he is done.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Count Fosco very nearly gets away with everything. He is only stopped by two things. First is that he underestimates the tenacity of D'Agosta, which leads to his own death. Second is his unawareness of Diogenes, who frees Pendergast.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted and lampshaded by Pendergast when an officer at Jeremy Groves' murder scene describes the fact that he "liked men and women" as "perverse sexual tendencies." Pendergast points out that thirty percent of all men have some bisexual tendencies.
  • No, Mister Bond, I Expect You To Dine: Fosco invites Pendergast and D'Agosta to stay the night (which he won't allow them to refuse) and then explains his entire plan and it's execution over dinner.
  • One-Word Title: As the etymology of "Brimstone" is likely as a fusion of Old English for "Burning" and "Stone", it relates to the deaths of people in the novel, where the cause of death seems to be burning from the inside, and satanic images appear at the deaths.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Fosco walls Pendergast up in his castle and everyone assumes he must have died.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: Fosco VS D'agosta.
  • Portmantitle: As the etymology of "Brimstone" is likely as a fusion of Old English for "Burning" and "Stone", it relates to the deaths of people in the novel, where the cause of death seems to be burning from the inside, and satanic images appear at the deaths.
  • Red Herring: Several characters believe that the murders are the sign of an impending apocalypse hitting New York City. Needless to say, it does not happen.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Fosco orchestrated all the murders as a way to scare Bullard into thinking the Devil was coming to collect his soul so he would "sacrifice" the violin and Fosco could get his hands on it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Delivered by Hayward to Buck.
    "Mr. Buck? If you don't mind, there's something personal I'd like to say to you... First of all, there's only one Jesus and you aren't Him. Another thing: I'm a Christian, and I try to be a good one, although I may not always succeed. You had no right to stand there when I was at the mercy of that crowd, point your finger at me, and pass judgement. You should take a good look at that passage in the Gospel of Matthew: Judge not, that ye be not judged... Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.... I always liked the King James Version the best. Now, listen. You worry about yourself from now on, being a good citizen, keeping out of trouble, and obeying the law... If there's a Second Coming in the works, you sure as heck won't get advance notice - that much I do know... Farewell, Mr. Buck. Keep your nose clean."
  • Serious Business: Fosco really just wanted his violin back. Though the MacGuffin in question would have originally been put to use in helping the Chinese develop a stealth missile.
  • Shout-Out:
    • As indicated in an author's note at the end of the book, Count Fosco is named after and based on a character from The Woman in White. Which creates a minor Celebrity Paradox, see above.
    • At one point, D'Agosta introduces himself as Jack Torrance.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Diogenes saves Pendergast in the epilogue.
  • Title Drop:
    • Pendergast finds brimstone at the scene of Jeremy Grove's murder and notes that it is "good Old Testament brimstone."
    • Latter on, the FBI file on the case is shown to be named Brimstone.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Bullard was being manipulated by Fosco the whole time into recovering his aforementioned violin.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Count Fosco once he's hit with his own microwave machine. He ironically hallucinates the devil coming for him before he dies. (Or was he hallucinating?)
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Fosco has the opportunity to shoot Pendergast and D'Agosta on multiple occasions near the end, but he wants to kill them in a more clever way. Although it is implied that he was going to have his butler shoot them, if D'Agosta hadn't been fast enough to stop him.