I used to avoid books by two authors, thinking that they would be like factory products, written to formula. They couldn’t have the uniform vision of a book created by one person. Well, that was silly. Mysteries and thrillers, even good ones, are not generally great works of literature and after picking up a couple of co-authored books without noticing the double attribution, I realized that they were neither better nor worse than books by a single author.
The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, is a good example of successful co-authorship. These two have written a series of novels together, and I happened to read the last one (as of 2006) in a set featuring Special Agent Pendergast and several other recurring characters. I enjoyed it enough to go back and read The Relic, the book in which he was introduced, but I don’t think I’ll read any more of them. Whether because he was in effect created by a committee or for some other reason, in my opinion Agent Pendergast doesn’t come to life sufficiently to support a series of books.
The plots of the books I read were interesting and took advantage of the interests of both authors. Preston has worked at the American Museum of Natural History and its labyrinthine corridors are an important feature of both books. Child is interested in ghost stories and tales of the supernatural and probably contributed much of the atmospherics in both of the books.
The Book of the Dead revolves around the installation of an ancient Egyptian tomb in the museum and the disasters that follow, raising the question of whether there really is a curse on anyone who violates the tomb.
Reading Preston and Child’s descriptions of the curses in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, I was taken back to the experience of walking through an exhibit featuring the Book of the Dead at the Paris Library about twenty years ago. It was the first exhibit I had seen in which entering a room triggered a recording about the contents of the room. As I entered each room (there seemed to be no one else around) a mellifluous male voice speaking BBC English began reciting from the pages displayed behind glass along the walls, things like, “and may the the God Maat devour your soul… and may beetles feast on your entrails…may you be torn apart by wild beasts…”. It was a very entertaining and memorable experience.