Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reliquary, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Today’s review is about a sequel to a book I read some months ago.  Reliquary, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, is a modern-day thriller set in Ney York.  The first novel by the authors, Relic, is about a mysterious creature unleashed in New York’s Museum of Natural History, and the sequel picks up the story – though the original creature is no longer the problem, there appears to be copy-cats roaming the city.  Back are NYPD detective Vincent D’Agosta and FBI agent (first name escapes me) Pendegrast to work on finding out who (or what) is really behind the series of strange murders occurring in Manhattan.  Though the plot of Reliquary occurs 18 months after Relic, it really can’t be read without reading its predecessor.

Preston and Child’s novels are extremely well written.  The characters are charming and I’m slowly but surly snapping up all the books I can find about D’Agosta and Pendegrast.  The plot moves quickly and is well developed; the authors manage to strike a balance between thriller, scientific fact and academia that is engaging and leaves the reader feeling smarter for having understood the technical mumbo-jumbo of the science and academia, while not getting lost in plot twists.  My favorite aspect of the authors’ work however, is there ability to turn the supernatural into the natural.  While most authors rely on a third-act plot twist in which the unexplained ties up all the loose ends remaining, Preston and Child are able to hook the reader with a seemingly unnatural set of occurrences, and reveal at the last that there is a perfectly rational explanation for everything that has occurred.  

All the Preston and Child novels that I’ve read have relied on an overarching theme of the macabre to tie the story together.  The first I read was about Voodooism, the plot of Relic relies on human superstitions, and this book’s central plot is intimately connected to the world that exists underground in New York.  I’ve not done extensive research into the possibility of huge communities living underground in the endless miles of centuries tunnels carved into Manhattan’s bedrock throughout the centuries, but I’ve heard/seen it mentioned in passing in other books and TV shows, and Preston and Child do a great job of creating a complex backdrop for this work; it might not be the whole truth (for what truth can really be gathered about a liminal community like that?), but it’s a wonderfully crafted fictional reality.

A word about the authors:  I find it amazing that such a seamless piece of fiction was created by two people.  I’m amazed – I don’t like sharing pens, let along creative ideas.  I’m incredibly impressed by the world created by Preston and Child.  For the reader however, a word of caution: don’t rely on the list of work at the start of each book to help you find your next read in the series.  These two have written several works together, not all of them about D’Agosta and Pendergast, and there is seemingly no distinction made when they list their works at the front of a novel.  Moreover, I’ve seen a list of previous works that starts with the most recent work and moves backwards (consequently, I read the latest book of the series first, much to my displeasure, then went back to read Relic).  

A note on this book in particular: it was written and published in the mid-1990s.  As such, it appears on the surface as if it could be happening today, but there are glimpses of the fact that it is more than a decade old – a joke about George Bush no longer being president (and they mean the first one, folks), references to the widespread use of fax, and the (almost) complete absence of cell phone all stand out like sore thumbs.  But I implore you to look past all that.  Pretend (like I do) that it’s happening today, and the story stands up remarkably well.  

All in all, I look forward to the rest of the books which follow D’Agosta and Pendergast, since both characters are unbelievably charming and lovable in their own ways, and from what I’ve seen so far, these works deliver on great plots with a hint of the macabre.  What more could you want from a paper-back thriller?

No comments:

Post a Comment