Friday 31 May 2013

Relic, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Relic was published in 1995 but I have only just got around to reading it. Oh well, better late than never. I must admit that although the joint authorial names sounded vaguely familiar I hadn’t actually read anything by them before (individually or collectively). They have collaborated on a dozen novels now, but this was their first.

The basic plot sounds very familiar. Archaeologists steal items from a legendary lost Amazonian tribe despite dire warnings of a curse and terrible vengeance falling upon them. Said archaeologists are duly killed or disappear in short order, but their loot is delivered to the New York Museum of Natural History, within which the story unfolds. People start being savagely killed, allegedly by some strange and powerful beast lurking in the Museum’s ancient sub-basements, and a link with the Amazonian loot begins to be suspected. Naturally, the heroes of the story – Margo Green, a postgrad researcher, FBI agent Pendergast, and Sergeant D’Agosta of the NYPD – take the threat seriously and try to warn those in charge but they are, of course, ignored, with gruesome consequences.  So far so routine, although to be fair the plot might not have been quite so well-worn when this story was written. Anyway, there are one or two unexpected twists before the end: the death of a character who had seemed to be in line for a romantic involvement with Ms Green, and a major development in the final chapter.

The style of the book is rather breathless, packed with chapters averaging only seven pages long, with some a lot shorter. The characters tend to be good or bad, with little subtlety in their development; at times it feels more like reading a film script than a novel. Dan Brown has since brought this practice to a fine art, but Lincoln and Child write noticeably better.  There is something of a mismatch between the fast-paced writing and the occasional and rather indigestible chunks of scientific explanation, but these do at least keep the story (just about) in the SF rather than fantasy camp.

Relic is more of a pot-boiler than a ground-breaker, but it passed the time agreeably enough on a long trans-Atlantic flight.


Bill Garthright said...

I tried reading Blasphemy (2007) by Douglas Preston one time. Ugh! I couldn't finish it. Absolutely nothing was believable, even by the loose standards of science fiction, and none of the characters were appealing in the slightest.

But then, I wondered why Dan Brown was so popular after reading The DaVinci Code, too. I guess tastes vary, huh?

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes, tastes vary indeed - as do priorities. Dan Brown is in my opinion a poor writer with negligible characterisation or subtlety, but he has the knack of maintaining interest through presenting a mix of fact and fiction in a very fast-paced, cliff-hanging way. Many people are intrigued by the "mysteries of the ancients" theme and would love to believe they are true.