The Relic


Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child


Mystery & Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 1, 2020

he Relic is the first book in a huge series of novels starring FBI agent Pendergast. It takes place in the Natural History Museum in New York city, which is an incredibly vast structure; multiple buildings strung together to cover a city block. The part of the museum open to the public is only a subset of the entire building. Beneath the museum are abandoned and forgotten tunnels. There are rooms and warehouses full of collected treasures sent back from world-spanning research that no one has had time to catalogue.

The Museum of Natural History is about to open a major exhibit on superstition. Museum workers set up displays from all around the world, including a frightening clawed figurine that was sent back from an expedition to South America. Soon after the crates from the South American exhibition are opened, some horrific bloody murders take place inside the museum. In these killings, the victims are not merely murdered, but they are practically shredded and dismembered, with blood everywhere. It appears that their skulls were punched open and their hypothalamus stolen. No human could possibly do this much damage to another, yet clearly something inexplicable and frightening is going on in the musuem.

Despite the murders, the directors of the museum feel that they cannot postpone the opening of the exhibit. There is too much money and stake. I confess, I found this implausible. Multiple people have been torn apart on the museum grounds, and yet the directors are worried about money?

Agent Pendergast arrives on the scene to investigate. Pendergast is brilliant, witty, insightful. He can quote Shakespeare. He is a crack shot. Pendergast teams up with Lieutenant D'Agosta to investigate. He meets pretty researcher Margo Green. But the clues don't add up (DNA from the crime scene seems to indicate a mix of gecko and human genes, so obviously the sample was contaminated), and the opening of the exhibition gets closer.

I didn't like the characterization in this novel. All persons in a position of authority are selfish, corrupt, and of course they are wrong. But they don't listen to Pendergast's advice (don't open the exhibition) and of course things go badly. The heroes are pretty much flawless, I was not worried that any of them would get killed off.

I did not find The Relic to be tremendously suspenseful. It was interesting enough to read, and I can see how the setting and plot might make a good movie (and apparently this book was made into a movie in 1997, though for some reason it is set in Chicago instead of New York). I thought that the cleverest idea in the novel actually appeared in the Epilogue - I don't know if this will be enough motivation to read the sequel, Reliquary. There are at least 20 Pendergast novels, I am not sure that I am intrigued enough to try reading more of them.