I’ve been a fan of the writing duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child ever since their debut novel, RELIC. They’ve produced some really fine novels since then, not to mention their solo efforts. FEVER DREAM is the latest to feature Aloysius Pendergast, Special Agent for the FBI, a man who prefers to go by his last name only.

This one opens twelve years in the past, before his FBI days, when he’s in Africa with his wife of two years, Helen, where they were participating in a herd reduction program for the Zambian government, when they get a call for help In a nearby tourist camp, a German photographer has been attacked by a huge lion and dragged into the underbrush. Because the Pendergasts are licensed hunters, they have to answer such a request.

Everyone is terrified because the lion had a bright red mane and the area was full of legends, going back forty years, of such a man eater that had killed and eaten humans. Couldn’t be the same lion, though, as the lifespan of a lion was approximately twenty-five years. Couldn’t be. Could it? No one would track and kill it.

The trail wasn’t hard to find and Pendergast and Helen checked their weapons, gave them to the gunbearers and began the hunt, tracking it by the blood trail. Knowing it was close, as a lion wouldn’t go far before eating, they came to a copse of trees where it had to be hiding, readied their weapons.

Just in time for the lion, a huge monster, to burst from cover, attacking Pendergast and his man, swiping huge paws back and forth, taking down the pair, about to chomp down on Pendergast when Helen cuts loose with her rifle, driving the creature off. She rushes in to attend to her husband when the lion suddenly reappears as she lays down her rifle, snatching her up, and retreating into the jungle.

Pendergast comes to a few minutes later and, though severely wounded, takes his rifle and pursues. The first thing he finds is her severed hand, stepping into a clearing to find the lion munching on Helen’s torso, the head lying beside. Calmly,he puts a bullet into the lion’s brain.

Jump to the present.

Special Agent Pendergast is in New Orleans for his bi-decade visit, according to the terms of the will, of his grandfather’s grave. At the old family home, tended over by the ancient Maurice, he decides to make a tour of the place he rarely visits, ending up at the gun case where his and Helen’s rifles reside, untouched since that incident twelve years before. Noticing rust on the barrel of Helen’s weapon, he decides to clean it. A weapons expert, when he finds the barrel clogged with bits of cotton wadding, he realizes right away what it means. Someone had changed the loads to blanks!

Helen had never had a chance!

Next, he goes to the personal effects recovered after killing the lion, as well as a tuft of that red mane that had been clutched in her severed hand. Performing tests, he finds the red is not natural, but a henna rinse! Helen had been murdered!

Anyone who follows the Pendergast novels knows a small thing like a twelve year old trail won’t even slow down the Special Agent. He recruits his old friend, Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta of the New York police, to help and they set off for Africa.

What they learn there sends them back to the States and Pendergast begins to learn he didn’t know his wife as well as he’d thought. She had been keeping secrets from him. An interest in John James Audubon and a missing early painting by him, the Black Frame, for one, a painting that no one knew the subject, done while he was recovering in a sanitarium before he began his famous paintings of American birds. An extinct species, the Carolina Parakeet, is also involved.

Unknown to Pendergast and D’Agosta, they’ve stirred up something with their investigation and now have a killer stalking them and everyone involved. One man is killed by shotgun before they can interview him, another shortly after their visit. Pendergast won’t let the unknown killer stop him, though, as he hunts down his wife’s killers for his expected revenge.

I couldn’t put this one down, I started it Sunday morning and finished it, all four hundred pages, before bed time. If one likes a good thriller, here’s one highly recommended.