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Literature / Dance of Death

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Dance of Death is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child first published in 2005. It is part of their informal Agent Pendergast series and the second novel in the Diogenes trilogy. This book also marked the 10th Anniversary of Pendergast's first appearance in The Relic, and as such, featured the return appearances of several characters from past books, including a few that hadn't yet appeared in any Pendergast-related novels from the greater "Preston-Child-verse" such as Eli Glinn from The Ice Limit.

Aloysius and Diogenes Pendergast have been at odds since they were children. Aloysius was a quiet, brilliant child, while Diogenes was brewing something dark inside of him. Now, Diogenes is planning his "perfect" crime with a simple dare to his brother — "stop me if you can."

This novel provides examples of:

  • Always Someone Better: Diogenes is almost always one step ahead of Pendergast.
  • Axe-Crazy: D'Agosta is warned not to get too close to Aunt Cornelia — even though she's tied to a wheelchair she's managed to put two orderlies in the hospital in the last year.
  • Back for the Dead: Margo is murdered a few chapters after her reintroduction, though it's ultimately subverted as Pendergast managed to save her and fake her death until the novel's end.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Pendergast blows through security at the airport by employing these tactics, flattering the guards and convincing them that he already has his clearance to see the security tapes. The best part comes when he promises a surly technician a ten thousand dollar reward for pulling up the footage they need as fast as humanly possible. When he asks where he can collect his reward, Pendergast simply says "Ten thousand dollars? Just for doing your job? A ridiculous idea." The other techs get a kick out of it.
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  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Nora recounts how she first met and fell in love with Smithback in Thunderhead and how she thought he was "the biggest jerk I'd ever met."
  • Bored with Insanity: Diogenes says that he let himself slip into complete madness for sometime before he learned to come back from it into a manageable insanity.
    And yet it was at this very moment, as he balanced on the cruel knife-edge of reality, that he comprehended there was a purpose waiting for him back in the real world. A double purpose: a reckoning and a reclamation. It would take decades of planning. It would be, in his own self-referential world, a work of art: the masterpiece of a lifetime... And so Diogenes did return to the world.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: D'Agosta breaks up with Hayward so Diogenes won't target her.
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  • The Bus Came Back: Margo and Smithback return for the first time since Reliquary and The Cabinet of Curiosities.
  • Calling Card: In his taunts to Pendergast, Diogenes uses Tarot cards to name the targets.
  • The Cameo: Corrie makes a brief appearance during one chapter where one of Pendergast's associates helps put her in hiding in case Diogenes attempts to target her.
    • Also Mime, who activates all his security systems when Pendergast warns him about Diogenes.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Pendergast realizes that Diogenes will not kill him at The Iron Clock, he needs him alive to enact his revenge.
    Pendergast:You need me, because without me — without your hatred of me — you would have nothing left.
  • Chekhov's Exhibit: Several mentions are made of the Diamond Hall at the museum in the side plot, but it is played as secondary to the Sacred Images exhibition that is being set up. The Diamond Hall turns out to be Diogenes's real target and he cleans it out while Pendergast is trying to hunt down his next named murder victim.
  • The Chessmaster: Diogenes. Some of his moves have been plotted out for over a decade, including the creation of Hugo Menzies.
  • Crazy Sane: Diogenes muses at one point that The Event let him see the true nature of the world, and his madness was the only reasonable response.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Hugo Menzies, the head of the Anthropology department and minor supporting character in Nora's side story, was actually Diogenes and pulled off the heist under everyone's noses.
  • Faking the Dead: Pendergast saves Margo by quietly transferring her to a hospital out of the city and fudging paperwork at the morgue to identify a random body as her. Diogenes thinks she succumbed to her injuries, and she is instantly safe from further attack.
  • Funny Schizophrenia: Throckmorton's outburst is disturbing to Smithback, but it's comes off as quite funny to the reader.
  • Go Among Mad People: When Smithback is named as a target, Pendergast hides him in an asylum for the wealthy who need "rest."
  • Grave Clouds: Margo is buried in the dead of winter. Nora notes that it's so cold she thinks the tears might freeze on her face.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Pendergast outwits Diogenes by doing the one thing Diogenes wouldn't have though of doing himself - he calls in the police, knowing he'll be caught.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Pendergast sets up a trade with Diogenes Viola for the real Lucifer's Heart.
  • I Will Wait for You: When Pendergast tells her he can never be with her as long as his brother is out there, Viola tells him she'll expect to see him on her island the day he is free.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Pendergast tells Viola she'll never be safe with him as long as Diogenes is loose.
  • It's Personal: Diogenes is out to destroy his brother on every level he can think of. He sets out to murder anyone he cares about and pin it on him and pull off the biggest crime of his life while Pendergast is completely distracted and unable to stop him.
    • In a more diminished sense, Agent Coffey is downright gleeful that Pendergast is now an outlaw and he can exact revenge for his embarrassment at his hands in The Relic. He even orders his agents to shoot him on sight.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Margo describes Smithback this way.
    "Funny, he tends to make a bad first impression, until you realize he's got a heart of gold... and the courage of a lion to match."
  • Last-Name Basis: Pendergast doesn't like being called Aloysius. Making it a particularly touching moment when D'Agosta addresses him by his first name when saying that he won't abandon him to save himself.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Turns out Smithback has published novels based off the adventures he took part in (The Relic, Reliquary, and Thunderhead). When Margo and Nora meet for the first time he comments on his "main characters meeting for the first time" and Nora mentions that he's improved a lot as a writer since his first book.
  • Lethal Chef: D'Agosta makes a holy mess of Laura's kitchen as he mentally laments that men are supposed to be the best chefs.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Pendergast has three dozen identical suits made out of the same antique bolt of fabric. The only times he's not wearing one of them is when he's in disguise.
  • Master of Disguise: Both Pendergast brothers. Diogenes takes it to diabolical lengths, creating half a dozen people and living as them, some for decades.
  • More Hypnotizable Than He Thinks: Subverted. Glinn brings in the best hypnotist in the world to regress Pendergast and find out what happened to make Diogenes crazy and hate him. When the hypnotist pulls out all the stops, it seems as if Pendergast has finally submitted to the regression. He sits up, remarks that the whole thing is a waste of time and isn't working and walks out.
  • Motive Rant: Diogenes likes gloating about his master plan as he enacts it's final stages.
  • Mythology Gag: D'Agosta notices a book in Pendergast's apartment titled Ice Limit III: Return to Cape Horn, a joke on the authors' promise to deliver a sequel to The Ice Limit.
  • Not My Driver: Pendergast abducts Smithback by posing as a cabbie.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Diogenes rescues Pendergast from Foscoe before the story starts. Not because he cared about his brother, but because destroying him was his job.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Diogenes targets Pendergast's friends and colleagues.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Despite all of Hayward's begging, D'Agosta throws away his career and possibly his freedom to help Pendergast.
  • Self-Deprecation: When Smithback tries to convince the hospital director that he's sane so he can leave, one of the things he tries to drop as proof is the fact that he's a published author and that anyone can simply look at the back cover of one of his books for a picture. Said books all share titles with Preston and Child's other works. The Doctor doesn't even try to humor him, citing that such fiction is unavailable at the hospital library and condescendingly states that it appeals to the Lowest Common Denominator anyway.
  • Split Personality: The workup on Pendergast Hayward has done pins him as a psychopath with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and leads her to believe that Diogenes is a figment of his imaginations and he himself is the killer.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: Diogenes loses it when he realizes he stole a fake Lucifer's Heart. The real diamond was never on display, locked safely in the insurance company's vault.
  • Talkative Loon: Smithback thinks Throckmorton is just as sane as he is, until he suddenly veers from their completely normal conversation to shouting random quotes from Shakespeare and then insists that he has to leave to do the Lord's bidding.
  • Unexplained Recovery: When we last saw Eli Glinn, he was at ground zero of an asteroid that reacts violently to contact with salt water suddenly getting exposed to it as the ship it's on goes down in freezing, stormy seas just off Antarctica and is somehow alive and only paraplegic after all of that. Plot Armor doesn't even begin to justify it.
  • The Unreveal: "The Event" that made Diogenes hate Pendergast so thoroughly and drove him to evil and insanity is built up through the whole novel. We don't get to find out what happened before the story is over.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Diogenes slips away in the tunnels.
  • You're Insane!: When Diogenes delivers his Motive Rant to her, Viola can only say "My God," conveying her realization that he is completely insane.