Museums, with their ancient and often half-known artifacts are always a place of mystery for everybody. Add a basement and a sub-basement storing millions of uncatalogued artifacts, and you have got yourself a thriller.
The first book in the Pendargast series, “The Relic” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child takes full advantage of the setting.
New York Museum of Natural History is rocked by the vicious murders of 2 boys, just before the museum is to open a new exhibit on “Superstition“. When a guard is also found dead, the previously-hushed rumours of the museum beast start to gain public attention. But the Museum has no time to hear the caution of Lt. D’Agosta, or the FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast (who is following a similar decade-old case in New Orleans). Meanwhile, a prominent member of the museum staff, Dr. Frock believes that the “beast” is a much-needed proof of his theory of “Callisto Effect”. He, along with his student Margo Green sets of to prove his theory.
Pendergast continues to follow the trail of the murderer. The trail starts in a doomed expedition to Brazil, from where the figurine of man-beast Mbwun, the progeny of devil (whose figurine shows features suspiciously similar to the murder weapon) was found, and shipped via New Orleans to museum. Meanwhile,as the cautious voices are overruled by political pressure (and replaced by a blustering Agent from New York office) , the grand exhibit opening is marred when a corpse is found stashed in the hall, and the resultant chaos causes several people (including Mayor and other prominent members of society) to be stuck in the fortress that is museum, where the murderer is at large. While D’Agosta tries to get the people out of the museum, Pendergast, along with Dr. Frock and Margo Green are left to solve the mystery of the beast.
Special Agent Pendergast is a wealthy Southern gentleman, with the suiting mannerisms. Since he is a main character of the novel (and the series), I need not tell you that he is sharp, intelligent, conversant in many languages and subjects. But he also has some bad habits (which he says are hard to break), like not being “able to stand pompous, bureaucratic individuals” and so on.
Among other characters, Margo Green is a nerdy graduate student, who finds herself in the middle of action when she stands by her advisor Dr. Frock. On the other hand, Lt. D’Agosta is out to get the murderer, and is quite happy watching Pendergast steamroll over the difficulties in the path, so that the investigation can go forward. They get along quite well. The main focus is shared among these characters, with Pendergast leading by his sheer force of will.
The book was a very good introduction to the characters (which I feel are well-developed), and does fulfill the role of the start of the series. With nice details of museum politics (believe me, watching Friends doesn’t give you all the insight into this), mystery of genetic manipulation, and action in the vaults filled by artifacts, the book is a very good read. I am really looking forward to getting to the rest of the series.
Incidentally, the first book I read by the authors was “The Codex“, which was more of “Relic Hunter” kind of novel, than say “Tomb Raider” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark“. I was also expecting this book to continue the same tradition, but I was pleasantly surprised. But then, the surprises do continue even in the epilogue, which set the tone for the sequel, Reliquary.
P.S. If you don’t know what I mean by “Relic Hunter” kind of novel vs. “Tomb Raider” kind of novel, do read the books I mentioned, and you will get it.
P.P.S. This is the second book I read for “Book to Movie Challenge“. The challenge will be round-up with next post.
Quote of The Day:
I respond sharply to insults. It’s a very bad habit, but one I find hard to break.
– Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast (FBI)