So, as you all may have figured out, I’ve been on a Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child kick lately. After interviewing Preston a few months ago (and having never really read any of their books prior to that interview), I thought it was high time I delve deep into their rich, crisp world of crime and the macabre…specifically, concentrating on the fantastic FBI Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast series. And I’ll admit, I’m thoroughly hooked! I’ll also freely admit that I haven’t really read the series in order (not that you necessarily have to). There are definitely certain sub-series that helps to read consecutively (i.e. the Diogenes series), but it really isn’t that big a deal if you don’t. Well, now, I’m down to only three Pendergast novels that I haven’t read. Oddly, the very last book I read was the very first in the series…a novel simply entitled “RELIC” (1995). I have one word to describe it…WOW!
Okay, first of all, let me start by saying…if you saw the movie based on this book from a few years back, don’t even give it a second thought. I’ve never seen the movie (and gladly so), but I’ve heard enough about it to tell you it was a complete travesty of justice as far as the book is concerned. Once again, Hollywood completely ripped a fantastic story to shreds in their attempt to make it more palatable for a two hour romp inside a dark theater…and apparently, they weren’t even smart enough to keep the best character in the book! That’s right, they totally deleted Pendergast from the movie! How could they possibly do that? Granted, in RELIC, Pendergast is a supporting character (though an intrinsically necessary one).
But enough about the movie. Needless to say, if you’ve seen it, forget about it. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not missing anything. Just read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
Essentially, the book takes place with the fictionalized equivalent to New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, where curators are getting ready for a huge extravaganza…the Superstition exhibition. As the exhibit title implies, it is designed to feature the world’s superstition. Among the artifacts on display in the exhibit is a relic discovered in the wilds of an Amazonian rainforest…a relic depicting a strange creature that resembles something between a human, a monkey, and a lizard (my interpretation anyway). The relic is clouded in mystery and disaster…bringing with it rumors of a horrible curse that resulted in the death of everyone in he expedition that discovered it. Now, just a week before the big exhibit opening, people are being brutally attacked and murdered in the nether-regions of the museum. Museum officials just wants it all to go away (murder can be such a bother some times), but FBI Special Agent Pendergast, NYPD Police Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, Ph.D. candidate Margo Green, and intrepid journalist William Smithback, Jr. are determined to get to the bottom of the grizzly killings.
Originally thinking the murders were being committed by a deranged mad man (Pendergast has followed the killer all the way from New Orleans after a series of similar killings), their investigation leads them to discover that the culprit might not be exactly human after all. DNA sequencing from a claw discovered on one of the bodies reveals that their quarry is something altogether different with a taste for the hypothalamus in the human brain.
Okay…enough of the plot. I don’t want to spoil it all for you. Let’s just say that of the Pendergast novels, I have a few absolutely favorites: Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life with Crows, and the recent Fever Dream (I will probably review these soon as well). But RELIC, while very different from what has become known as the Pendergast series is an absolutely fantastic read! It doesn’t have the same “feel” as the others and Pendergast is definitely under-developed from what I’ve become used to (one of the hazards of reading a series out of order, I guess), but it’s an absolutely MUST-READ for anyone who loves a good monster story. In several of the book reviews written by readers of my own ENIGMA Directive series, my books have often been compared to the early works of Preston and Child. In the past, I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by that. After all, the Pendergast novels I had read up until recently very rarely had any cryptozoological monsters lurking in the shadows as does Primal Thirst and Sirens’ Song. But now, having read RELIC, I completely understand the similarities (even before I knew, I wasn’t complaining…to be compared to these guys is a HUGE honor!).
But even if you don’t like reading about monsters…if you just love a great edge-of-your seat thrill ride…if you just love holding your breath as certain death looms in the shadows surrounding your hero, you will want to read this book. If you just enjoy a great techno-thriller filled with detailed research and authentic scientific details, you will want to read this book. If you enjoy stories that make you ask the question “what if?”, you will want to read this book. Essentially, it is my assessment that if you enjoy reading anything, this is one that every avid reader should jump into. It should be in every personal library and should be ranked up there as one of the great contemporary classics of our times.