Reliquary, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Tor, 1997, 464 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-54283-5

Something is loose deep under New York. Again.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s first collaboration, Relic, was an unqualified success. Their thriller received good reviews, sold well and was adapted to cinema under the direction of Peter Hyams. (Okay, so the film wasn’t all that great and tanked at the box-office, but that’s not fault of the book itself.) It was inevitable that they’d eventually write a sequel.

The logical premise, of course, is to expand the action. Relic had one monster, why not have more in the sequel? The original was confined to a Museum, why not let the monsters loose under the entire New York in Reliquary?

As I said, obvious but effective. In this volume, the remnants of the monster, glimpsed in Relic‘s epilogue, surface some time later as a wave of creepy homeless death occurs under New York. The novel opens as the crisis reaches a boiling point: This time, no mere bum has been killed, but the daughter of a wealthy socialite was mysteriously murdered. Socialite raises hell, policemen investigate, creepy evidence is brought to Relic‘s heroine Margo Green and here we go again…

Fortunately, Reliquary not only does thing slightly differently than its predecessor, but does them better. This time around, the characters are more clearly defined and more sympathetic. The writing is snappier, even improving upon the lean style that was so successful in The Relic. Scenes are more spectacular, belief is more easily suspended… in short, Preston and Child have improved since their first novel, and it shows. Reliquary is in many respects a more enjoyable book than Relic.

Special mention should be made of the eeriness of subterranean New York so effectively used here. A relatively old city by North American standards, Preston and Child easily populate New York’s underground with forgotten subway tunnels, service tunnels, multi-level outposts and entire underground populations. They state that most of it is true… who knows? Sort of the setting for that old TV show, “Beauty and the Beast”, adapted for a horror tale.

Fans of the first volume will be delighted to find more about Margo, Penderghast, Smithback, D’Agosta and Frock. New characters also join them, including a delightfully feisty NYPD officer named Hayward.

Plus, the novel packs the required chills. There are dead bodies, creepy dark places, riots, carnage, last-minute twists, the promise of world-wide destruction and other sort of fun stuff.

Through it all, one can’t really shake the prefabricated feel that also plagued The Relic, but then again it’s better to have a professional but mechanical thriller than an incompetent one. Preston and Child might build their novels with flowcharts and mathematical models, but the end result is good enough that it doesn’t really matter.

What is a bit more annoying is the unwillingness of the narrative to truly use all the elements it so lovingly sets up. At one point, there’s a congregation of wealthy bourgeois, police squads, monsters, bums and oodles of water all headed for the same point. What happens next isn’t quite as spectacular as what you might think.

Nevertheless, Reliquary exemplifies the type of novel which gave rise to the expression “beach reading”. Undemanding, exciting and unusually readable, Reliquary gets top marks as a thriller. If you liked the first one, don’t miss it.

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