Friday, October 21, 2016

Reliquary - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

   1997; 464 pages.  Book #2 (out of 15) of the Agent Pendergast series.  New Authors? : No.  Genre : Action-Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Beneath the sidewalks of New York City – indeed, beneath the sewers of New York City – lies a whole new unmapped world.  In some long-abandoned subway tunnels, as well as other old excavations, live the mole people.  Most of them never see the daylight, although a few – they’re called ‘runners’ – surface occasionally to scavenge for food, drugs, and other necessities.

    The life expectancy of the moles is short – on the average they die about 22 months after they begin living belowground.  But lately, something’s been lowering that average still further, by brutally murdering and decapitating some of the subterranean dwellers.  Mephisto calls them “the wrinklers”.

    Well, no big deal, eh?  If a few of the houseless (they prefer that term because they consider the underground their ‘home’) get murdered, why should anyone up where the sun shines care?

    But when the daughter of a wealthy New York socialite is the next victim, things change.  And suddenly the mayor and the chief of police are under tremendous pressure to stop these killings.  So who wants to volunteer to go crawling around down below?

What’s To Like...
    Reliquary is the sequel to the original book in the series, Relic, which I read a long, long time ago, and which is reviewed here.  All the characters I remember from Relic are back, most notably Margo Green, Lt. Vinnie D’Agosta, Sergeant Laura Hayward, and of course, Special FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  The four of them share the spotlight somewhat equally; this will of course change as the series progresses and the authors come to realize Pendergast is by far the most charismatic character.

    Structurally, the two books are very similar: the pacing is fast, there’s lots of thrills & kills, and everything builds to an exciting, protracted ending in a “confined space” setting.  There will be no running away by anyone involved in the final showdown.

    The chapters are short, and there’s a kewl Authors’ Note at the end of the book, addressing what is and isn’t true about the NYC subterranean setting.  You’ll enjoy the “track rabbit” cuisine, but be wary of the NYPD “rousters”.  One of the characters is a journalist named Smithback, who I didn’t remember, but who apparently was also in Relic.  For the most part he’s your stereotypical newshound, but I liked the “swimming” scene with him and D’Agosta.

    If you haven’t read Relic (or, as in my case, waited eight years to read the sequel), Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child give the backstory on pages 103-04.  The book’s title is explained on page 432.  This is both part of a series and a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word ...
Mephitic (adj.) : foul-smelling; noxious (especially of a gas or vapor).
Others : Attenuated (adj.); Animicule (n., and apparently a variant of “animalcule”)

    “Did you visit the Pitti Palace?”
    “Pity who?”
    “It’s an art museum, actually.  Quite exquisite.  There’s an old medieval map painted as a fresco on one of its walls, done the year before Columbus discovered America.
    “No kidding.”
    “In the place where the continent of America would later be found, the map is blank except for the words Cui ci sono dei mostri.
    D’Agosta screwed up his face.  “Here there are … mostri.  What’s that?”
    “It means, ‘Here there be monsters.’”  (pg. 133)

    ”He’d painted the inside of the windows black, but one of them got broken somehow and I got a look inside before it was repaired.”  He grinned.  “It was a strange-looking setup.  I could see microscopes, big glass beakers, boiling and boiling, gray metal boxes with lights on them, aquaria.”
    “One aquarium after another, rows upon rows.  Big things, full of algae.  Obviously, he was a scientist of some kind.”  Kirtsema pronounced the word with distaste.  “A dissector, a reductionist.  I don’t like that way of looking at the world.  I am holist, Sergeant.”
    “I see.”  (pg. 189)

 “The thought of a journalist with a grenade launcher makes me very nervous.”  (pg. 395)
    I had some quibbles with Reliquary.  First and foremost, the timing of the moles surfacing exactly when and where the “Take Back Our City” protest was occurring seemed remarkably convenient.  Second, I don’t recall there ever being an explanation of where and why Pamela Fisher died.  These are not spoilers, since they aren’t crucial to the plotline.  But the former seemed contrived and the latter was for me a loose end.

    It also seemed like if you were fat and/or obnoxious, you were a candidate for being offed along the way.  You might get away with being one or the other, but not both.

    Last and admittedly least, our adventurers “smell methane” on page 385.  I’m sorry, but methane is odorless.  Trust me, I’m a chemist.  You may certainly have smelled natural gas, of which methane is a substantial part.  But what you’re really smelling is a small amount of mercaptans that are added to natural gas, so that it does stink, whereby you smell it and hopefully avoid asphyxiation.

    8 Stars.  My quibbles notwithstanding, Reliquary is a worthy complement to Relic.  If you liked the latter, you’ll like the former.  But you might not want to read them one right after the other, since they’re so similar in setting and structure.

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