Reliquary, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Title: Reliquary  (Pendergast #2)
Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Year of Publication: 1997
Length: 480 pages
Genre: thriller
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 3 stars

This book is definitely a sequel. An entertaining and eminently readable sequel, but still, a sequel.

A couple of years after the horrific murders perpetrated by the ‘Museum Beast’, strange corpses start popping up across New York — corpses with their heads smashed in, cut off, or sliced open in some fashion, to get at precisely the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that Mbwun needed to eat in order to survive. The trouble is, this time it looks like there’s more than one monster. At first, no one pays much attention to it, because the first victims are drawn from New York’s massive homeless community. It’s only when a missing socialite turns up dead and headless in the Hudson that the story starts getting press — and that certain members of the NYPD, specifically Lieutenant D’Agosta, start putting the pieces together. Naturally, the re-emergence of this kind of serial killing brings Special Agent Pendergast back on the scene as well.

As the book progresses, we learn that Greg Kawakita, from Relic, discovered the secret of the Mbwun plant — that eating it could actually turn you into the monster creature, by means of a reovirus. He found out that the original explorer who found the Mbwun’s home territory and tribe must have been force-fed the plant and turned into the creature that terrorised the Museum years before. Kawakita then attempted to distill out the more physically horrifying genes, aiming to create a “purer” form of the reovirus, that would enhance the user’s sensory perception and intelligence without turning him into a reptilian-ape-creature-from-hell. Unfortunately, he started testing it before it was perfected, leading to a society of partially transformed mutants, mad with the need for their drug and turning increasingly murderous.

The most interesting aspect of Reliquary is, I think, the subterranean world of the homeless, too many to be counted, both victims and perpetrators of the ongoing crimes. The introduction of this hitherto hidden world is fascinating, from the paranoid intelligence of Mephisto to the survival tactics of the underground dwellers. This plot element also introduces us to Laura Hayward, a member of the NYPD specializing in rousting, who happens to be working on an advanced degree on the sociology of the homeless. I can’t remember if that particular focus comes back in later books, but whether her academic focus remains consistent or not, Hayward is a great character and an excellent addition to the series’s rotating cast.

This book introduces more of Pendergast’s unorthodox methods. He disguises himself as the head of a homeless community in order to meet with Mephisto, the king of the underground who gives Pendergast, reporter Bill Smithback, and D’Agosta information on what his people have seen of the mutant murderers. Later on, we see Pendergast operating as a one-man SWAT team, fully decked out in urban camo and carrying enough weaponry to invade a small nation. Really, if there’s anything Pendergast can’t do, we haven’t seen it yet.

Reliquary is readable but not critical to following the Pendergast series. It’s most notable for its addition of Laura Hayward, but other than that, you won’t miss much by skipping on to the far superior Cabinet of Curiosities. (I should mention that most of the novels function well enough as stand-alones, and do not need to be read in-sequence. I read them completely out of order on my first go – and I’m someone who that would usually drive crazy to do). There’s a lot that’s forgettable about this book, but benignly so.

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