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Literature / Crimson Shore

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Crimson Shore is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child first published in 2015. It is part of their informal Agent Pendergast series, and the fifteenth book overall.

Pendergast and his associate Constance are relaxing in their mansion when they receive a curious request: A sculptor, living in the seaside town of Exmouth, Massachusets, had his wine collection stolen. Learning about Pendergast from Bill Smithback's books, he asks him to investigate. Pendergast isn't interested until he learns the wine thieves apparently missed an extremely valuable case of wine.

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Pendergast expects this to be a vacation for him and Constance...but then he investigates the sculptor's wine cellar and finds out the thieves took a skeleton from behind the cellar's wall. Shortly afterwards, a visitor to Exmouth is found dead, bizarre symbols carved in his body. It soon becomes clear that Exmouth is a Town with a Dark Secret, especially with the local legends of witches moving there after the Salem Witch Trials. Pendergast is quick to investigate, but he what he finds might be a surprise.


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This novel provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Dana Dunwoody, who was behind the burglary and an accessory to the first murder. He gets killed by the actual murderer, his own brother. Then there's victims killed off by the monster. Several of them turn out to be part of a horrific witch cult.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: The Dunwoody brothers come off as this. Technically, Dana and Joe are a Big Bad Duumvirate, with Dunkan as The Dragon, but Dunkan kills Dana and Joe is tricked by Pendergast who captures both him him and Dunkan. After their arrest, they are replaced by Morax and The Man Behind the Man.
  • Buried Alive: The poor victim that was walled up behind what became the wine cellar. He was a ship captain and his captors were trying to torture him into giving up the ship's valuables.
  • Busman's Holiday: Pendergast thinks his investigation of the wine theft will be a vacation...which makes this already an example, but then he ends up investigating more murders again.
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  • Chekhov's Gun: Many, the biggest being mentions of a crazy homeless man and food disappearing, which become relevant in the first climax.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A lot of the named characters become relevant later.'
  • Demon of Human Origin: The demon Morax really isn't a supernatural demon, just a product of a Satanic cult's insane breeding program.
  • Demoted to Extra: Most of the other recurring characters are given only brief mentions in this book.
  • Diabolus ex Machina/Halfway Plot Switch: About two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the book, the killer is defeated, the mystery is solved, and Pendergast gets his wine. Then the demon attacks.
  • Downer Ending: Yeah, the mystery is solved, but most of the named characters are dead, Pendergast is missing, Constance is locking herself up in the tunnels under the mansion, Proctor is attacked in the mansion, and Diogenes might be back.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Bradley Gavin is horrified to find a mass grave of women and children. He turns out to be a member of a witch cult which locks up people all their lives for breeding and "religious" purposes.
  • Genre Shift: After the mystery that brings Pendergast to Exmouth is solved, the town is suddenly attacked by a demon, which even the book describes as something straight out of a horror movie.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: It is heavily implied that Diogenes is still alive and was behind the Diabolus ex Machina.
  • Kill 'Em All: The Diabolus ex Machina takes the lives of most of the named characters. Even Pendergast ends up missing at the end.
  • Leave No Witnesses: At one point, the investigation turns to finding what happened to a ship that vanished in mysterious circumstances (see The Unsolved Mystery, below). The ship was actually tasked by a British noblewoman to transport a bunch of destitute women and their children to a women's shelter in America. A gang of Exmouth natives tricked the ship into running aground, hoping to steal its cargo. When they find women and children coming ashore, the gang's ringleader yells that the passengers are all witnesses. Pendergast eventually finds the grave where all the ship's women and children were buried.
  • Religion of Evil: The witch cult almost averts this. It's members are otherwise normal people who act nice to others, are upstanding members of the community and keep their religion private. It would be nearly harmless if they didn't chain women and their daughters to walls for all their lives. They do that because they're trying to breed humans with a genetic defect that makes them resemble one of the cult's demons. These individuals are considered holy mediums by the cult, also chained to walls, abused for religious rituals, and made into sacrifices if the cult feels it necessary.
  • Revealing Cover Up: The wine cellar burglary would have remained just that if Pendergast didn't hear about the really rare case of wine that the thieves somehow missed.
  • Salem Is Witch Country: According to local legend, Exmouth was where the Salem witches ran to when the trials happened.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Similar to Cemetery Dance. The murderer is not a member of a witch cult, and the symbols in the bodies are only there to confuse the investigation...but it then turns out there is a real witch cult in Exmouth.
  • Sequel Hook: The disappearance of Pendergast, followed by Proctor being attacked.
  • Spoiled by the Format: So the killer is caught and the mystery is solved...why are there still a hundred pages left?
  • The Juggernaut: Morax is pretty much a horror movie monster; even Pendegast can't beat him.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: In-universe version. Pendergast's investigation leads to a (fictional) ship known as the S.S Pembroke Castle, which mysteriously vanished over a century ago. It turns out that a historian trying to solve the mystery inadvertently set off the plot. The historian finds out the Castle was transporting some valuable jewelry. The historian is overheard by someone who knew what actually happened to the ship, who then deduces that the valuable jewelry was swallowed by the ship's captain, and proceeds to retreive the captain's body, having to break into a wine cellar to do so.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Exmouth has two of them, in fact.
    • About a hundred years ago, Exmouth was hit with a bad famine, forcing some of the inhabitants to resort to drastic measures. One group tricked a ship into running aground, killed all the passengers and crew, and walled up the captain in an attempt to extort the ship's valuables from him. Descendants of these bandits end up being responsible for the wine cellar burglary and subsequent murders.
    • The bigger one comes out of the Halfway Plot Switch. There is indeed a demonic witch cult in Exmouth. They even have a demon of sorts.
  • Treasure Chest Cavity: It's eventually revealed that the skeleton that used to be behind the wine cellar was a seaship captain transporting - among other things - valuable jewelry. When his ship was attacked, he swallowed the gems for safekeeping and they remained with his remains until the present-day thieves retrieved them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The story goes into the thoughts and feelings of a few characters without giving any indication they're part of a secret witch cult.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: They were shades of this in earlier books, but the book clearly shows there's something between Pendergast and Constance. They very nearly do it, but Pendergast backs out at the last moment, and Constance runs off into the Halfway Plot Switch.
  • Villain Episode: A single chapter is written from Morax's perspective, entirely in italics.
  • Your Princess Isin Another Castle: See Halfway Plot Switch.
  • We Can Rule Together: Bradley Gavin tried to get Constance to join his witch cult. She's not interested.
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