on April 6, 2004
I found this book a disappointment. I cannot tell if it is because I read it right after Relic, by the same authors, which had very favorably impressed me. This opus sees the comeback of several characters that appeared in previous Preston & Child books (Special Agent Pendergast from Relic, Nora Kelly from Thunderhead and Smithback, appearing in both) as well as the environment of the N.Y. Museum of Natural History, but one does not get the impression of a coherent universe : the Museum's top brass is changed, as is the N.Y. mayor, one wonders where is Margo Green from Relic... and Pendergast is *Really* too much. Too wealthy, too smart, too able... all in all incredible, or should I say unbelievable? . Whereas Relic was a good horror thriller, including the nasty stroke at the end; the Cabinet of Curiosities demands really too much from the reader's goodwill and suspension of disbelief . The sequence of events leading to the serial killer going on a spree, and putting on his trail the only man able to find him out, and who, coincidentally, is ideally fitted for the task with all the necessary traits and who, moreover, is tied to him by bonds the reader will discover as he goes along... It is all too much for me. Perhaps you'll like it better than I did, if you are really fans of the genre or the authors.
on February 3, 2004
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the best-selling authors of RELIC, MOUNT DRAGON and other novels, write the literary equivalent of those splashy, overbudgeted movies that crowd the multiplexes every summer. Frequently tied to some nifty high concept, Preston/Child's books somehow never seem to pay off on their promise, delivering thick manuscripts loaded down with soggy, flaccid prose and poorly-defined characters. THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES is, sadly, no exception.
Like many of Preston/Child's novels, THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES has a fantastic premise: a serial killer who stalked the streets of New York in the late 19th century might still be alive. This killer, nicknamed The Surgeon, doesn't just dispatch his victims, but performs a gruesome operation on them, removing a section of the lower spine. As the novel opens, a long-buried coal tunnel is discovered during construction of a new apartment building. Inside the tunnel, sealed into its walls, are the remains of more than thirty victims of the old Surgeon, their spines dissected. Not long after this discovery, new victims are taken, and the cycle of mutilation begins again.
This is a fascinating basis for a thriller, especially the sort of off-kilter story Preston/Child like to tell. Are the new murders copycats, or the original Surgeon? The question becomes more pressing when the main characters discover that the purpose of the mutilations was to uncover the secret of extending life. So it becomes possible that a serial killer more than one hundred years old is out on the streets.
It's hard to figure out how experienced authors could bungle such a great idea, but Preston/Child manage to do so. The problem lies mainly with their inability to draw compelling characters. Preston/Child, in all of their books, fall back on a storytelling mode that could be called Everybody's A Jerk. Frequently used on television and in movies, Everybody's A Jerk narratives depict all characters other than the heroes as completely ineffectual, petty, or just plain stupid. This tendency grows even more annoying when the protagonists are in turn shown to have no recognizable human faults.
THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES revolves around Preston/Child's answer to Sherlock Holmes: FBI Special Agent Pendergast. Seen in RELIC and its sequel, RELIQUARY, Pendergast is absolutely flawless; he knows everything there is to know on any subject, is wildly rich, and is utterly unflappable. There's never any doubt that he'll succeed in his plans when he's literally never wrong on any count. Pendergast marches through the novel like a giant among the little people. Even his comrades, Nora Kelly (from THUNDERHEAD) and Bill Smithback (from RELIC, RELIQUARY and THUNDERHEAD), are startlingly inept next to this perfect being.
Thus deprived of any real tension, thanks to the hero's infallibility, THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES slogs through hundreds of pages of bitter, unpleasant point-of-view rambling by the extensive cast of numbskulls - Everybody's A Jerk, remember? - until finally lurching into a startlingly wrongheaded conclusion. The climax hinges on elements never revealed to the reader and therefore lacks even a token amount of tension. Preston/Child's novel deflates like an inner tube with a nail in it, and then mercifully stops, but not before setting up an inevitable sequel. What did we do to deserve that?
on July 14, 2003
Cabinet of Curiosities, the latest in a string of works by Child & Preston, involves the discovery of a mass grave in present day NYC -- the charnel house of a mad scientist on a quest for the secret of eternal life. Excellent premise, I'll give the authors that much credit. Also intriguing is the background of New York in the 1800's and the various "cabinets of curiosities" housed there -- lots of excellent resources for the authors. Unfortunately, the material could not prop up the bad writing and the poor characterizations of this novel.
After reading this novel, I have to wonder if I've actually read the same book that other reviewers are crowing about. I found the pacing of the novel extremely slow and the characters to be wooden and one-dimensional. Archaeologist Nora Kelly was mildly interesting, Smithback was atrocious! What newspaper would hire a guy like that? He was bumbling in every sense of the word, and not charmingly so. And Agent Pendergast? Despite his extraordinary gift of "memory crossing" (much too unbelievable, even for a story like this) I found him to be the most singularly dull character in the entire book. There was nothing original about this character whatsoever -- in fact, once the reader has finished with the first description of the man pulling up in his Rolls Royce, it's easy to predict every nuance of the character...his mannerisms, his dress, his living accomodations (at the Dakota, no less!), I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking, "Of course." And if he does possess the gift of "memory crossing," then why is there an investigation at all? It seems as though he could simply "cross" to the scene of the crime, and if he can affect people during that time period (as evidenced by him tossing a handful of coins to Mary Greene's little sister), then he should have easily been able to stop the killer before he actually murdered anyone.
Even the writing, at times, was painful and amateurish. Overall, this book is a waste of time to plow through -- the authors had an excellent resource and base for a story, but they blew it. Perhaps mixing characters from several previous books (as mentioned by other reviewers) was their downfall...I can't be sure, but I can be sure that I won't be going back to read any of their other work.
For an excellent historical mystery set in 1800's NYC, check out Caleb Carr's Alienist series. Excellent stories, superb characterizations, and solid writing technique.
on August 20, 2003
You know, as I have begun this habit of writing reviews, I soon found myself giving almost everything 4 or 5 stars. Wondering, critically of course, will I actually read something of lesser value? Well, this book fulfilled my nagging dillema. Now, I'm not going to downplay this book. It was a good read for the most part; however, my only complain is that when reading this book I felt as if I were reading a book which contained a land of nothing but absolute geniouses. A great example of this is early in the book when Nora goes to a women's house whom is of the age of about 90. This 90 year old women had a vocabulary greater than that of any scientist explaining molelecular physics. After that, I simply could not help but to think that the authors were attempting some kind of ego-tistical prize by outdoing each other in semantics. Yes the book was good, however, every book needs a character that either equates in knowledge with the reader or is of lesser intellect.
on February 1, 2012
I loved this book! I had not read any of the collaborations of Preston and Child previous to this book. I am so glad I gave their writing a chance.
When a New York City construction crew unearths a tunnel filled with thirty-seven victims of a late-nineteenth century killer, FBI Special Agent Pendergast approaches Nora Kelly, an archaeologist at the New York Museum of Natural History, to ask her help in examining the site before the powerful company building on the land can rebury the bones.
Kelly and Pendergast determine that the victims were surgically dissected while still alive, and the bodies sealed in what was once the basement of a museum called "Shottum's Cabinet of Natural Productions and Curiosities." Pendergast is interested in the one hundred-year-old murders for reasons of his own, but as he and Kelly begin their research, a present-day serial killer commits the first of several homicides identical to those found in Shottum's Cabinet. Kelly shares her findings with her on and off again boyfriend New York Times reporter Bill Smithback, and together with Pendergast they race to stop a nineteenth century killer who is apparently still at work.
Preston and Child pool together their similar writing skills in a story that has you on the edge of your seat. I give it two thumbs up. You definitely won't want to put this one down.
on February 25, 2004
At a construction site in Lower Manhattan, a grizzly discovery is made. Thirty-six bodies are discovered in an excavated basement passageway. The bodies are those of children dead for over one hundred years. At that location was a Cabinet of Curiosities or a museum of oddities quite reminiscent of a circus freak show or, perhaps today's Ripley's Believe It or Not Museums found in so many city's tourist centers. A mysterious FBI Special Agent named Pendergast enlists the help of Nora Kelly, researcher for the Museum of Natural History to attempt to get to the bottom of the crimes. Nora wonders what relevance this old crime can be to the modern FBI until soon after the press picks up the story, the murders begin again. Pendergast and Nora must try to solve the crimes before they themselves become the killer's next victim.
THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr is one of my favorite mystery novels. It is rooted in the past-New York City of the 1890s where a serial killer is haunting the streets killing prostitutes. Surprisingly, this book, although set in modern times, is quite reminiscent of THE ALIENIST for several reasons. The ties to the 19th century is crucial to the story; a team is assembled to fight the killer and the killer is quite ingenious. They are also very long books that move at an incredibly fast pace. THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES simply cannot be put down. The Museum of Natural History long a Mecca for families has in it's basement a nightmarish maze that becomes the setting for one of the most terrifying scenes in the book. Chinatown, Riverside Drive and Central Park are all used to a chilling effectiveness as the chase for the killer is on. In spite of a conclusion that might be a bit too outlandish, I definitely recommend this as one of the most entertaining books this year.
on February 7, 2004
This is the second thriller by Preston & Child I've read--the other being Thunderhead. (I've seen the film version of The Relic, but that doesn't really influence my remarks here.)
There's nothing really wrong with The Cabinet Of Curiosities--and there was nothing really askew with Thunderhead, come to that, which was also a three-star exercise--but it simply fails to elevate itself above the use of some rather traditional thriller routines. Preston & Child have polished up a fairly compelling style, by this time. They've done their research, and their continuous fascination with the bowels of dusty museum-type edifices--and the hints of magic and menace that could be lurking in such arcane paper-trails turned paper-traps--are addictive reading as each chapter is digested. I also feel that they handle characters quite well; how could I not love Agent Pendergast, being such a big fan of the Doctor, from Doctor Who? He seems cut from the same cloth, and I can almost imagine William Hartnell stepping into the role of Pendergast, with all his little tricks and strangenesses, were this a film. Nora Kelly, too, is a strong recurring character in these thrillers--and Smithback the wily reporter is a stock character who develops sufficiently beyond the stereotype he springs from. Then there's the mood...the sense of danger lurking; who is our methodical, elusive serial killer who turned autopsy into a form of murder back in the 1880's and seems to have returned to plague modern times, just when a forgotten charnel house full of the bones of thirty-six victims from his ancient murder-spree is unearthed. There is a splendid taste of Steampunk to all of this: the derby-hatted, umbrella-wielding slayer who roams the night, throwing a bag over the head of his next victim, and dragging them off for weird, horribly lethal, spinal surgery for some sinister purpose that stretches back a hundred years and relates to some dreadful bit of biologically-enhanced alchemy, if you will. And how are the killings linked to the prestigious museum where Nora Kelly works, and butts heads with her superiors? Is it just that somewhere in the museum archives--down deep in the dark basement--lie the notes that would explain what the murderer is doing and why he could be alive after a century? Or is the museum connection not nearly so fanciful...Could someone who works there have a reason for apeing the techniques of a long-dead psychopath?
Pendergast is a continuously facsinating character, and adds to the Steampunk feel, since he seems to have stepped out of a bygone era of gaslamps and carriages...and then it turns out he can step right back into that era, though before calling him a time-traveler it must be said he uses the cheater's way. Still cool, though. But this fine character, and the others, are not able to distract me from a final assessment of the plot, which is, when all is weighed and balanced, fairly standard. The individual scenes that build suspense--the heroes hunting the killer, while he or she hunts them--and the blossoming into full-fledged action, are all expertly crafted. It is the overall story that is not new, that gives in and ultimately turns rather routine corners. Preston & Child, talented thriller purveyors, are working established formula pretty determinedly in this effort as they did in Thunderhead, and despite all of the fun of reading The Cabinet Of Curiosities, it is nothing original or daring. It is simply another strong thriller. Is that fine with you? If so, okay.
on January 22, 2004
Another intelligent and captivating novel by two gifted storytellers. Set in modern day New York City and featuring numerous characters from previous works, this mystery interweaves a series of similar murders that occured a century ago as well as in the present. Like other Preston/Child novels, a key premise and driving factor behind the murders stretches the bounds of plausibility, but we know this before we begin the first page, don't we? Though he does not appear on every page, the book is greatly enhanced by the presence of central charactor Pendergast, the enigmatic, wordly and uber-competent FBI Agent, freelancing once again in New York. His role takes on more depth in this book, though I find him to be such a great character that I hoped to encounter him more often. As usual with their novels, this is a page turner in which you'll learn a bit about a few arcane topics and encounter enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. My sense that the characters could have been better and more deeply developed did not detract significantly from my overall enjoyment. Highly recommended.
on January 5, 2004
Give me a book with a New York setting and a serial killer and you have just made my day. This one was awesome for me. Lots of bones discovered while excavating for a new building. Now Special Agent Pendergast is called to the scene and enlists Nora, an insignificant worker at the New York Museum of Natural History. But he realizes her talents, and her reporter boyfriend is also imbedded in the mystery. The "Cabinet of Curiosities" takes us back to the late 1800's when scientists and
explorers were discovering new animals, artifacts, and cultural
items that astounded the people of that time. They became kind of a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.
I was totally intrigued by the information imparted. The mystery was so interesting. I have run out and purchased all the Preston/Child books I could find. However, I do remember reading "Relic" very many years ago and honestly recall almost every bit about it. That's saying a lot...since I can hardly recall the plot line of some books that I read 2 weeks ago!
on December 21, 2003
The premise of "The Cabinet of Curiosities" has already been described so I won't go over it again. I just got done reading this and I was blown away! This is my first book by these particular authors and I so enjoyed them! I heartily recommend this novel.
I agree with the previous reviewer cyk1: the climax wasn't as "wild" as I thought it was going to be. However, this really did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. The plot-line was layered and intelligent, but exciting and unpredictable. I really loved the characters: they were so well-written and diverse. The story is set in present times, but is connected with hundred-year-old murders that happened in NYC. The authors include rich, historic details about the times in which these murders occured that are wonderful to read, but never superfluous. I felt it was hard to stop reading and never came across slow, drawn-out bits. Finally, while being a being a very entertaining book it was definitely *not* formulaic. The characters and the plot-line were very innovative. And, just to add, there were no cheezy romantic sub-plots or graphic hanky-panky, which for me is a plus and just exemplifies the sophistication of this book.
A juicy, enjoyable read! :)