Literature Commentary: Reliquary

31 Aug

(Originally published February 13, 2009)

“If it sells, make a sequel.” Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child obviously learned this lesson after the success of their first book, “Relic.” “Reliquary” fits neatly into the same genre – suspense/horror, set in the dingy back alleys of New York City. And like its predecessor, “Reliquary” relies heavily on the same mix of wooden characters, dark environments, scientific mayhem, and brutal action violence.

Set eighteen months after the events of “Relic”, “Reliquary” follows the same formula as before. People are disappearing all across New York City – and quite literally losing their heads. The search for answers takes anthropological researcher Margo Green down into the catacombs beneath Central Park, where she battles a menacing cult of mutants and encounters the shadowy “Mole People.”

It is here that “Reliquary” distinguishes itself. The authors have created a fascinating subculture of homeless people living in the tunnels under the city, and their characters are compellingly drawn. Comprised of the insane, the drug-addicted, and ex-Vietnam veterans, the “Mole People” face off with a horde of bloodthirsty mutants in a series of heart-stopping underground confrontations.

Unfortunately, gut-level shocks often supplant plot development or exposition. While the book isn’t quite as gruesome as “Relic,” reading about heads being ripped from bodies is still unsettling. But quite honestly, I found certain other aspects of “Reliquary” more unpleasant than the gore. The book is positively awash in urban grunge – the characters make their way through every kind of disgusting sludge known to man. If scuba diving through tanks of raw sewage sounds like your idea of fun, “Reliquary” just might be for you.

“Reliquary” is certainly not for the squeamish – or for any readers interested in character development or complex abstract thought. It’s an unapologetic thriller through-and-through. The carnage comes fast and fierce, amping up in the novel’s final pages with a ferocious hand-to-hand battle…and the authors’ underground melees are undeniably gripping. The authors try to toss in a few bits of societal commentary about the rights of the homeless, but this aspect flounders in comparison to the savage catacomb brawls.

Fans of “Relic” will certainly appreciate this sequel. It’s fast-paced and exciting with some very creative elements of underground exploration. Incidentally, I learned quite a bit about New York City in the process. However, if you’re looking for strong characterization or literary depth (or if you’re easily nauseated), your reading time might be better invested elsewhere.

VERDICT: 7.5/10
If you liked “Relic” you’ll like “Reliquary.” Good reading for thriller fans.

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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Thrillers


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