Thursday, September 19, 2019


by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Recommended Ages: 14+

This is the second of 18 Agent Pendergast novels, of which the first was The Relic and which I read way back in the mid '90s when it was brand new, and there wasn't a huge franchise trailing after it. I also saw the movie version of The Relic that came out around that time, and which (as I recall) took serious liberties with the book. Since I'm all about moving forward, I'm not going to go back and re-read Book 1 so that I can add it to my canon of book reviews, which dates back to about the turn of the century. I'll just say that as far as I remember, with a little help from Book 2, The Relic was a grisly, creepy novel about a creature prowling the bowels of the New York Museum of Natural History, slavering over a certain species of lily that was used as packing material for a plundered relic of an extinct Amazonian tribe. Cut off from its drug of choice, the subhuman addict goes after the next best thing: a gland tucked inside the human brain. The outcome is a paroxysm of hideous violence. Dozens of victims, brains sucked out of a hole in the back of their heads. Icky in the extreme, and terrifying to boot. The city is made safe thanks only to a handful of scientists working at the museum, a dumpy city cop, a debonair FBI agent and a crusading journalist. But as the monster's corpse disappears into the back of a government van, mysteries remain unresolved, and now in Book 2, they break out again.

What museum curator Margo Green, Police Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, journalist Bill Smithback and Agent Pendergast know, as the sequel kicks off, is only that some unholy horror with a combination of human and reptile DNA, known as the mbwun, wreaked havoc before they as a group were able to kill it. What they only find out by degrees is that the mbwun lily is making more mbwuns (if that's the plural form), spreading an addiction into the literal underbelly of the city and, with the addiction to the plant, certain physical and mental transformations. People who live in the underground recesses of Manhattan are disappearing, but the authorities only take notice when a beautiful socialite turns up headless and skeletonized, in the embrace of a headless mutant skeleton, in one of the city's nasty rivers of mud. This sets two segments of the city's population on a collision course, with white privilege on the march from one direction and the Mole People, who dwell on a level of civic development aptly known as Route 666, from the other.

In the pinch point is a police department with crappy leadership, but some outstanding individuals doing their best to control the damage. The book does a good job of making the reader angry about a lot of bad decisions that don't fall very wide of the line between fiction and non. But it doesn't content itself with that. Instead, it brings up horrors from the depths – like, 30-odd stories down, in an abandoned rail line for the wealthy elite known today as the Devil's Attic – where a cult practicing a ritual involving polished skulls prepares it's next victim.

It doesn't stop at creeping horrors, either, building up a frenzy of excitement about a plot to drown the Wrinklers, as this deadly cult becomes known, followed by an even more urgent race to stop the reservoir dump from flushing the mbwun lily out into the ocean where, activated by the salt in the water, the gene-rewriting reovirus it carries will transform the world into a monster apocalypse. Suspense, fast-paced action, violence, gore, and a razor-thin margin between life and death make this book, degree by thrilling degree, the type of thing your fingernails will leave dents in.

Next in line after this, in the Pendergast canon, is The Cabinet of Curiosities. A 19th book in the series, Crooked River, is expected in February 2020. The writing team of Preston and Child are also responsible for the five-book Gideon's Crew series and the novels Mount Dragon, Riptide, Thunderhead, The Ice Limit, and Old Bones. Since I've already reviewed some of Lincoln Child's solo novels, I'd better mention that Douglas Preston also has a solo career, with such titles as Jennie, The Codex and four Wyman Ford novels under his belt. Cryptids and paranormal creepy-crawlies, investigated in the light of present-day science and law enforcement, seem to be their m├ętier. I was going to say "forte," but sometimes it's the pianissimo parts that make the hair stand up on your neck. I look forward to more of those experiences, if for no better reason than my neck can stand to be aired out now and again.

1 comment:

Boomer Sooner said...

I have read and enjoyed all the Pendergast novels. Such a great character.

Thanks for the review!