The Cabinet of Curiosities
Warner / AOL Time-Warner
US Hardcover Trade First
Publication Date: 06-2002
466 Pages; $25.95
Date Reviewed: 06-11-02
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002
It's been a while since I've visited the Preston-Child collaboration corporation. I enjoyed 'The Relic' and "Reliquary', both for their guaranteed monster and the character of FBI Special Agent Pendergast. While I found 'Mount Dragon' an enjoyable summer read, it did have it's fair share of howling cliches, and at any rate, 'The Hot Zone' is pretty much all I need in the realm of disease-based terror. But I only needed to see the title of 'The Cabinet of Curiosities' to know I was going back one more time. It was probably no coincidence that I'd recently seen a few articles on the Forteana list about these old versions of a Natural History Museum. I've noticed that everyone likes to fertilize the ground they're going to grow their fiction in. It doesn't hurt though, and at least this time Preston and Child are ahead of the curve rather then behind Preston's brother. Fear not: 'The Cabinet of Curiosities' is a lightning fast ultra-lightweight summer bonbon. But readers should be delighted to find that it heralds the return of Special Agent Pendergast, and that Preston and Child have found a character to lavish some attention on who is worthy of that attention.
'The Cabinet of Curiosities' begins as excavators unearth the scene of thirty-six brutal murders -- over 120 years old. It seems that a certain Cabinet of Curiosities once occupied the building where the murders took place. Worse yet, it seems that a modern copycat has elected to resurrect them, inspired by a news article written by none other than William Smithback, the sleazy journo from 'The Relic'. Nora Kelly, the archaeologist from 'Thunderhead' (which I've not read) is around to take care of the archaeology and more. But most importantly for the reader, Special Agent Pendergast manages to join the fun.
It speaks to the power of Doyle's creation Sherlock Holmes that any slight imitation of him, no matter how faint, no matter how quaint, seems to garner a reader's good will. That's certainly the case here, though Preston and Child go to some lengths to make Pendergast a good deal stranger than Holmes. His appearance is a savior to both New York City and this novel. Whenever weird happens, Pendergast is there. It's interesting that even the authors' characters think that he is an omen of ill fortune. Scarier than Jessica Fletcher, folks know that if Pendergast shows up, not only will people be killed, they'll be killed in an unusual and particularly horrific fashion.
But as Pendergast mediates the proceedings, 'The Cabinet of Curiosities' proceeds full speed ahead, and the speed is really, really fast. You can easily read and enjoy this 466-page novel in two days. At least I did, and as usual, you'll get to enjoy a lot of interesting information that Preston and Child pack into the work. This time around however, they seem to be a bit more inspired and get some great imaginative scenes in the novel, eerie collections and some pretty damn awful non-elective surgery. All the time they manage to keep the pedal to the metal, and this is a good thing. You don't want to think too much about the uplifted breasts of the archaeologist. At least, you wouldn't want to admit to it.
Preston and Child do an excellent job of putting the characters you care about in real, "they're gonna kill 'em off" danger. You won't believe what happens as the pages whip past, but there it is. They ratchet up the suspense like it's nobody's business but theirs. In this they show their skill as writers. 'The Cabinet of Curiosities' is a hot rod, light, fast, deadly if driven wrong. Preston and Child don't flame out here. They entertain and it's a hell of a good time.