Thursday, February 18, 2010

Relic: A Pleasant Surprise

A week ago I just finished reading the novel "Relic." For those of you who have seen the movie, "The Relic," please disregard everything in it, because the movie is nothing like the book. In fact, the movie was so bad that I think my mind blocked any memories of it out to protect me from losing any more brain cells.

Since the movie was so horrible I was slightly skeptical about the book. Also, this is the second book given to me by the friend who gave me, "The Ruins" and, if you've read my review of that, suffice to say I wasn't a fan. However, I'm pleased to say his praise of this book was accurate. This book is a fast paced adventure taking place in an eerie setting with everything you want a from a best seller; likable characters, suspense, action, and even a setup for a sequel.

The story takes place in the New York Museum of Natural History. Guests are being murdered by evisceration and part of their brains are removed post-mortem. Those in charge of the museum are trying to keep the matter quiet, afraid that it will ruin their chances of opening the "Superstition" exhibit. It's a controversial exhibit that they hope will renew the public's interest in the museum, basically saving it from bankruptcy. However, as more murders occur, the city police and FBI are called in to investigate, and despite the authorities' best efforts to close the museum for the protection of the public, the museum directer pulls some strings and opens the exhibit anyway. This culminates in a dramatic climax where the people invited to the opening ceremony are being picked off by terrifying monster, one by one.

All of the main characters in this story are likable in some way. Even the directors of the museum are sympathetic characters by the end of the novel when they finally realize how foolish their actions were. The main character, Margo, manages to remain feminine while breaking the stereotypes associated with female protagonists. (Hence, she doesn't conform to the weak female stereotype of so many others...) This is also the first book where I've actually liked the figure of a journalist. Most journalist characters really annoy me, because they're willing to do ANYTHING to get a story and often are very crass and cold when it comes to innocent victims. While, Smithback, the journalist, does occasionally seem slightly cold to the plight of innocents, his roguish wit and sense of humor make him one of the most likable characters for me.

Really, the only criticism I have for this novel is in the character of the first FBI agent to show up to investigate the crime. Agent Pendergast seemed very unbelievable to me. We're talking about a man who can read people perfectly, with a well-read education in art, literature, blood splatter, and pretty much any other subject he encounters. Supposedly, he was also one of the only survivors of a special forces group in a Camboidian death camp. And, did I mention he has the demeanor of basically James Bond even though he is supposedly from New Orleans? If the author hadn't specifically said he was from New Orleans, I would be wondering why a British detective was assigned to the case. He says, "Capital!" And, being raised in the South, though not New Orleans, I can tell you, that isn't a phrase we use down here. The author even likens him to Sherlock Holmes in the eyes of his character foil, D'Agosta, the New York city Lieutenant. In my mind, very cynically, I said, "No, sh**?" Anyway, not a very realistic character because no one in reality is that awe inspiring. Still, he was a likable character as well and he and D'Agosta played very well off of one another.

The setting of this book is absolutely amazing. You can visualize the museum perfectly as though you were there, and yet it has the feel of unknown territory. It's as though the depths of the museum are a ruin in and of themselves that few have traversed. Also, the idea of gruesome murders in a museum makes the reader uncomfortable since they're public places, and they usually feel so safe and secure. There's something disquieting about the idea of someone being murdered in a place of learning. Also, the series of tunnels beneath the museum adds an interesting twist to the storyline in a place where people could get lost and never found, or where a terrifying monster could lurk waiting to pounce... I also liked the idea of tunnels beneath the museum because, living in South Carolina, I know there are similar tunnels beneath Columbia and the probability they would exist in other cities is likely.

The thing that impressed me most about this book was the fact it also made the "museum monster" actually very frightening. When you think about what the creature actually looks like, you get the impression of a "B-movie" monster. In fact, what it made me think of most was the monster in the crate from "The Crate" in the movie "Creepshow." Still, the way the creature is described along with the foul smell that precedes it, creates enough suspense and a mental image just vague enough for your imagination to fill in the blanks. A person's imagination can definitely come up with something inhumanly scary if given just enough dotted lines to fill in the horrific gaps.

I highly recommend this book, but don't pick it up until you have time to read it nonstop. As for me, I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, "Reliquary."


  1. Even though you don't seem fond of Pendergast, I recommend the other books in the series, including the sequel to Relic, Reliquary. A Murder of Crows, Cabinet of Curiosities, they're all quite good, IMO.

    Too, I know for a fact that the RCPL Main Branch has 'em all.

  2. Well, Pendergast grew on me by the end of the book. Like I said, I just thought he seemed a little too cool to be believable when he was first introduced.

    I'll check the others out then. I'm hoping to get a few for my birthday, but it might be a good idea for me to start frequenting the library again. I'm finally starting to run out of books that I haven't read. Thanks for letting me know.