The fifth book I have finished this January is Reliquary by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. It was published in 1997 and is the direct sequel to Relic, which I wrote the review for in 2021. I wanted to get this book over and done with because I truly did not love the first and so the fact that this is a direct sequel to Relic made me not want to read it at all. However, I admit that I like reading adventure thriller novels and I cannot justify reading any further in the series if I skipped this one.
This is the “Pendergast series” named for the enigmatic character Agent A. X. L. Pendergast of the FBI. However, as in the first novel, Pendergast is really not the main character. He is also a heavily relied on “tool” for the writers to always have a help at hand. That does not mean that the character is not interesting and fun. Perhaps it is because he is “overpowered” that he is so exciting to read. After two novels with this character, the reader still does not know a whole lot about the gentleman except that he is intelligent and skilled. In the first novel, Pendergast makes a remarkable and striking entrance. The same is true in this novel – his entrance is exciting and remarkable; so I guess that is how the authors enjoy bringing him into stories. Its fun, I guess. Keeps the reader a little surprised. However, I have to share that Pendergast does not make this interesting entrance until page 107. So, readers who enjoyed the character in the first novel may have been wondering if he is even going to show up to the second.
The first book, Relic, is necessary to read prior to this book. The reader cannot skip that one and fully understand this story. Ultimately, they are one large novel, but who on earth would read that?! My problem with each novel is that they seem to go on too long. Now, some readers suggested that these novels are about 100 pages “too long.” Having read it, I want to agree. However, I am not quite sure where to trim the fat. I mean, I cannot truly figure out exactly where all the length comes from. Frankly, truthfully, I think the whole Bill Smithback sidestory is uninteresting and tedious. I dislike the character and his interactions and meetings with the character Mrs Wisher do not truly bring anything I want to read about to the story. Those segments do succeed in building a very well-rounded backstory with more facets to the setting and events. The value is also in giving perspectives that are not from a police standpoint or a museum scientist view. That being true, though, does not mean that I want to read it or that I should care about it. It makes the plot fatter, not better, I think.
I do not understand how this book does not have any map or chart for the reader. Literally, all of the other characters seem to have maps and drawings and schematics, but the reader has nothing. We are also treated to “named places” – waypoints, types of places, but we are not given any point of reference to orient ourselves. This is very frustrating and after awhile it really grinds on the reader – at least it did me. I got very sick of hearing the characters talk about this particular point, this specific tunnel, that connection to pipes, trains, tracks, ports…. Context does not help much at all, all the tunnels are same, the setting is all murky, soggy, smelly, sludgy. So, while the characters seem to know about the various tunnels and ingress/egress, the reader just feels left in the dark in a puddle of sewage.
All of those complaints being mentioned, the book is a solid, averagely plotted thriller with a heavy dose of evolutionary science fiction. Its an crime-science fiction-thriller and for the most part, that hits a large audience of readers. Its diversion from long days, its interesting to a point, it has some tropes and stereotypes, it also has some flaws. It basically chugs along on its over-long path without huge ups or huge downs. Most readers will be satisfied by this novel because while there is nothing to cheer for or be exhilarated about, it has no ruinous flaws that tank the novel. At the end, the reader will have had a decent read, but will likely be worn out from caring about the characters and tired of the endless plot.
My favorite moment comes in chapter 27 during an exchange between the homicide Lieutenant D’Agosta and a rather counter-culture artist named Kirtsema:
D’Agosta looked at the strings in disbelief. “So this is art? Who looks at it?”
“It’s conceptual art,” Kirtsema explained impatiently. “Nobody looks at it. It’s not meant to be seen. It is sufficient that it exists. . . . . As Derrida said, ‘Art is that which is not art,’ which means–“
“Did you know if his first name was Gregory?”
“Jacques. Jacques Derrida. Not Gregory.”
“I mean the man who lived next door.” — pg. 188, chapter 27
I laughed. I laughed again as I typed this segment.
Anyway, one other very nitpicky sort of detail: we meet a police chief named Waxie – he is not a charming, helpful character. He really has a lot of the worst characteristics. A yes-man to the higher-ups, a mind that is rather dull, and a pervasive laziness are some of his main attributes. He is a rotund fellow who complains and whines a great deal. So, in my mind I was kind of surprised on page 341 when he is described as having a basso profundo voice. I just did not associate this with that character. This was such a surprising (and admittedly irrelevant) detail, I did wonder if the authors did this on purpose, just as a sort of “got-cha!”
Overall, a reasonable read that is a bit overlong. I was entertained, for the most part. I did not love the first novel, so I was never going to love its sequel. However, now I can read onward in the series, which I intend to do at some point – hopefully we can step the heck away from the underground world of the museum for awhile.