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Literature / Still Life with Crows

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Still Life with Crows is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child first published in 2003. It is the fourth novel in their informal Agent Pendergast series.

A bizarre, ritualistic killing rocks the sleepy Kansas town of Medicine Creek. While the locals think it is just one particularly gruesome murder, Agent Pendergast arrives and declares that a serial killer is on the loose. As more bodies turn up, the local sheriff rushes to find the killer before it spoils a deal that could save the town. As usual, Pendergast believes that something more sinister is afoot.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Corrie's drunken mother takes no shame in telling her daughter how worthless she thinks she is. She also spends all their money on mini-vodka bottles and Corrie is left to survive on cereal.
  • All Men Are Perverts: When Corrie's mother learns she's working for Pendergast she insists that this is the real reason he's hired her.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Corrie rushes off to the cave without calling Pendergast because she doesn't want to look foolish if she's wrong. She ends up running into Job and becomes his imprisoned "playmate."
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Smit Ludwig walks in on his own funeral several days after the killings. While everyone assume Job had killed him, he had only knocked him unconscious and stolen his shoes. When he finally came to, he wandered into the church during his eulogy.
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Used twice. When Brast sees Job coming at them, he jumps down a bottomless pit instead of letting Job get him. The Ghost Warriors committed mass suicide after they slaughtered the Forty-Five because they knew there was no future for their people and preferred to die as warriors on their own land rather than be carted off to reservations or killed by soldiers.
  • Busman's Holiday: Pendergast claims he is on this.
  • Cute Bookworm: Corrie keeps a dozen different novels in her backseat.
  • Disney Death: A whopping four times Sheriff Hazen, Job, Smit Ludwig, and the cop watching over Job's mother all turn out to be okay after implicitly dying
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Sheriff Hazen figures out where the killer is hiding when Larssen asks "I mean, where's this killer supposed to be hiding? In a hole in the ground?"
  • Feuding Families: Lavender accuses Hazen of having this as his motivation for suggesting he is involved with the murders.
  • Fish out of Water: Pendergast is this once he appears in the small Kansas town of Medicine Creek.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Winifred Kraus had her crazy days as a teen. Corrie is on the path to straightening out and becoming one as well.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Pendergast slaps Lefty to get his senses back after his dogs are killed in the cave. Larssen slaps Brast when he's freaking out after Job attacks them.
  • I am a Humanitarian: There is clear evidence that the killer is cooking and eating his victims.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Job attacks and kills people because he's trying to play with them and doesn't know his own strength or the consequences of death. In the end, Corrie manages to talk him down from killing her by offering to be his friend.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Ludwig so wants to be a "real" reporter.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The ending reveals the killer was trying to re-enact the Nursery Rhymes his mother told him. The reader may be able to pick up on this before the characters do.
  • Karma Houdini: Winifred Kraus' father is the reason Job is such a Psychopathic Manchild. When Winifred had a child out of wedlock as a teenager, he forced her to hide the "shame" by raising Job in a cave away from human contact. He died long before he could be hit with any of the consequences of his actions.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Job is one of these kept in a cave who found his way out. Also Subverted in that he started out as a normal child (and apparently a very intelligent one) who was twisted by being forced to live in the cave (his mother gave birth out of wedlock, and her father forced this whole thing on her).
  • Meaningful Echo: Pendergast notes that the fourth victim was gutted by the killer "to lighten his load." This is in direct reference to Brushy Jim's story about the Ghost Massacre.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Corrie goes into this twice while Job has her prisoner.
  • Never Found the Body: Corrie mentions this trope by name when talking about the local gossip and town secrets to Pendergast.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Job is a human version of this. He's not evil, he just doesn't understand that it's wrong to kill people in order to re-enact his nursery rhymes.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Many people fall down the chasms in the caves, but only Job comes back from it. His arm is broken and one of his eyes is poked out, but he still manages to make it out of the cave, across town, tear down a wall, and chase Corrie through the fields.
  • Not Quite Dead: Smit Ludwig disappears, attacked by Job midway through the book. It's only in the epilogue that we find out he miraculously survived.
  • Not So Stoic: The normally suave and charming Pendergast gets unusually stern with Wren when he mentions his brother.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Justified - the cave system provides shortcuts for the killer that seem impossible.
  • Papa Wolf: Hazen loses it when he finds Tad's body. He also becomes fiercely protective of Corrie.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: During the epilogue chapter after everything else has been wrapped up, Job appears at the end alive and well and chases Corrie, although she's successfully able to talk him down, leading him to be taken in by the authorities.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The entire town gathers at the church on Sunday for some reassurement. When the pastor repeats a sermon he's been giving for thirty years instead of something relevant, things get way out of hand.
  • Properly Paranoid: Willie Stott chastises himself for worrying about the killer being in the field his car breaks down by. "Yeah, right. Five billion acres of corn and some nutcase is lying in wait, right between here and the Wagon Wheel." He quickly learns he was right to worry.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Job.
  • Red Herring/Doing In the Wizard: It's not a Native American curse. There IS a very historically important Native American burial ground site nearby, though no one has any idea of it until they burst in at the climax.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Sheriff Hazen's theory of the crime.
  • Self-Deprecation: Corrie is reading a book entitled Beyond The Ice Limit, a direct reference to Preston and Child's 2000 novel The Ice Limit (and their promise to produce a sequel). She finds it less than stellar and comments that it's not nearly as good as the first novel. Funnily enough, The Ice Limit actually got a sequel in 2016...titled Beyond the Ice Limit.
  • Serial Killer: As soon as Pendergast shows up in town, he declares the murder to be the work of a serial killer instead of just being an isolated incident, as it's got all the trappings of one. Sure enough, he's proven correct.
  • Small Town Boredom: All Corrie can think about is getting out of Medicine Creek. It's why she takes the job with Pendergast.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Mc Felty, now that we know that he definitely didn't go to visit his mother (who's been dead for 20 years) and also wasn't hiding in the caves? Also, was Larssen ever found?


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