“What we have here is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
– Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child –
If Science Fiction literature is my High School Sweetheart, and Fantasy is my first “serious, adult” girlfriend, the one I first took home to Mom and Dad (and eventually married), then Adventure Fiction is my the first girl I had a major crush on in Elementary School. This metaphor is weirder than I intended.
What I mean to say is this, there is something pure and innocent and wonderful about a story that is unabashedly made to give you a sense of adventure, to occasionally stir up fear in the unknown, and leave you with a sense of joyous satisfaction when the story ends. As a kid I got that feeling from Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, (book and movie) and a little novel I read at far too young an age called Riptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. My memory is fuzzy, but as I recall it told the story of a young boy whose friend dies while exploring a cavern that houses a lost pirate treasure, and who, as an adult, goes to extreme lengths to unearth a treasure of mythic status, a sort of fictionalised Oak Island.
This book freaked the heck out of me as a kid, and I loved it. As I grew up and thought back to it I began to worry that the novel wouldn’t hold up to my “more refined” (I sound so pretentious I know) tastes, and I more of less forgot about it. That was until 6 months ago, when I joined the RandomChatter.com community (gotta tow the company line), and got chatting with our resident “Z-List Author” Derek Beebe in the Slack Channel Patreon donors get access to.
He told me that Preston and Child were some of his very favourite authors, and he recommended I read the first novel in their Special Agent Pendergast series, 1995’s Relic. This novel was previously adapted into a film that was almost universally panned, and there has also been rumours of a TV series based on these novels, though aside from an announcement that it is being “planned” details are scarce and nebulous enough that the show may sadly never become a reality. After that over-long introduction, here is my review of a novel that came out when I was 3.
What I Liked
The choice of setting for this novel, The Museum of Natural History in New York City, was a perfect choice for a story about an unstoppable monster preying on unsuspecting victims. I don’t know how much of the geography of the museums catacombs was real of fictional, but I don’t terribly care. I’ve been to the museum, it was kind of creepy already, this novel just made it even more terrifying. The tight setting made the novel feel incredibly claustrophobic, and literally every turn of the page felt like a new opportunity for someone to die.
Though this novel takes a few pages to get rolling, once it does the pace is relentless, which serves a novel like this so well. Something new happens literally every chapter, but the novel still takes time to make sure readers have a clear idea who each of the main characters are, and we get a decent sense of their thinking and motivations.
There will be a little more about the characters in the next section, but I wanted to briefly mention how much I enjoyed Agent Pendergast. I get the sense from this novel that Preston and Child may not have intended to have an entire series branch off from this character, his page time is incredibly short if they did. Still, every page he is on he steals the show, with a weird southern/Victorian charm that is so much fun to read. I can’t wait to see where the character goes from here.
Lastly, this novel has aged surprisingly well for a 1990’s thriller. The technology is used sparingly, so out-dated jargon is kept to a minimum, and with the exception of the dates being shown occasionally this novel has an almost timeless feel to it. It could be set anywhere between the 1970’s and 2000’s and feel authentic.
What I Didn't Like
My expectations were probably askew, as I was constantly mentally comparing this novel to Riptide and James Rollins’ wonderful Sigma Force novels, but I was expecting this book to be a little more “adventurous” than it ultimately was. Like I said above, the close setting works great for the story, but it took me personally aback as I read the book.
Regarding the characters, with the notable exception of Pendergast, and to a lesser extent his NYPD companion D’Agosta I really just didn’t care about any of them. They were given just enough characterisation to serve the needs of the plot, and nothing more. When the plot of a novel is good it can to an extent mask the lack of compelling characters, and that is the case here. Still, I hope that future novels put a greater focus on developing realistic and fully fleshed out secondary characters.
Should I Read it?
The answer to this question really depends on your tastes. If you like Thrillers with a dash of Supernatural/Weird Science twists then absolutely you should read this novel. It’s exciting, scary and fast paced, which makes it great for a quick weekend read. Don’t come looking for high concept ideas or depth of character though, you won’t find it with the 480 pages of this novel. It reminds me in many ways of some early Crichton works, just lacking his occasional deeper insights into human nature and psychology, so if you’re a fan of his, it’s definitely worth sitting down and blowing a few hours on this book.
- Plot 85%
- Writing Quality 80%
- Pacing 85%
- Emotional Connection 70%
- Wildcard 75%
- Re-readablity 80%
- Overall Rating 79%