(Originally published February 3, 2009)
I like creature stories. A lot. Especially when the creature is a mysterious, primeval monstrosity that stalks the primary human characters through dark, brooding environments. Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” “Congo” and “Prey” were both (for me) intense, gripping reads that kept my attention until the very last page.
And in this respect, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s “Relic” doesn’t disappoint.
The story starts off just like any other novel in the same vein: a scientist on an archaeological expedition makes a horrifying discovery before being killed. The significance of the prologue becomes clearer as the novel progresses, building to an explosive, pulse-pounding climax that had me riveted to my chair. Like most science-thrillers, it has a lot of evolutionary overtones, but fortunately these never come across as trumpeting an atheistic worldview.
The book follows Margo Green, an anthropological researcher at New York’s Museum of Natural History, as she tries to learn the truth behind a series of brutal killings in the museum. As expected, the characters of “Relic” are thinly drawn caricatures who serve little purpose other than to provide fodder for the violent “and-then-there-were-none” games that accelerate towards the end of the book. In this respect, “Relic” is very average – the authors never made me truly care about the characters like Michael Crichton did in his bestselling competitors.
But when the creature gets onstage…things get real gripping, real fast. This book is not about character development or deep, underlying moral messages – it’s about shocks, the more intense the better. “Relic” certainly serves up a heaping portion of terror and suspense, with an epilogue that adds an even more mystifying twist.
Bloody violence – as expected in a novel of this genre – is profuse and prolonged. However, in this context (a suspense-mystery novel) it seemed less offensive to me than in the graphic novel “Watchmen.” The violence, for the most part, is described with clinical coldness, which heightens the tension and makes the pivotal scenes all the more intense. (Warning: the novel culminates in a truly disturbing finale that will certainly upset sensitive readers.)
“Relic” isn’t great literature. It’s an escapist read that exists solely to create white-knuckled suspense and haunting nightmares filled with marauding beasts. If you enjoy this sort of book, “Relic” is certainly for you. One caveat: it’s certainly not for the weak-stomached.
An enjoyable, entertaining diversion.