Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The wooden door frame was scored and gouged into a welter of fresh splinters...

Mbwun by caramitten (deviantArt)

" if something with claws had been scrabbling at it."
 ~ The Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (1995)

I read this story years ago, and when I read it again this month I had a weird sense of deja-vu. Not because I'd read the novel once more, but because there was a film that was oddly similar to it in comparison. Then it hit me. The movie "Hell Boy" (2004). The museum, the overall description/vision of the monster, were much the same. 

Regardless, I have to say I loved this novel. It reads like a well researched tale, from descriptions of the museum to the autopsy scenes. There wasn't much I found unbelievable on the pages except for a couple of autopsy and death investigation missteps. For example, the pituitary does not come out when the brain is removed. It's located in a very small space inside the skull and has to be manually extracted with a long handled scalpel (Personally done it, so I know...). The medical examiner would have to be looking inside the skull for it, not at the brain (page 61). In addition, hands on dead bodies are not covered with plastic when they are recovered and sent to the morgue from a crime scene. Plastic degrades DNA and ruins good evidence. The hands would be covered with paper bags instead.

One other mistake I noticed was on page 80, there is mention of 'ballistics analysis,' but there were no 'ballistics'/bullets to analyze. The correct term would be "blood-spatter analysis," I believe, also termed 'bloodstain pattern analysis' by some. Blood-spatter analysis is the term that's been used since the 1950's, and I was surprised at that mistake. Ballistics is the study of things related to gunfire, trajectory of bullets, examination of patterns on casings, etc. Blood-spatter analysis looks a patterns of blood in relation to a crime (or suicide). Arterial spurts, splatters from hammers or other tools used on human bodies or other 'bleeding' episodes, constitute blood-spatter analysis.

There were some lovely made-up tidbits such as the "Callisto effect," Callisto being one of Jupiter's moons, or (in Greek mythology) the nymph Artemis turned into a bear and set into the stars, but that was an enjoyable piece of fun to read amid real scientific information such as "convergent evolution."
There was a lot of research put into this book, and I enjoyed much of it.

There were some parts of the novel that dragged for me. Some of the anthropological discussions were long winded and unnecessary, and slowed the pace of the story (example page 55, Kindle version). I think the long winded pieces were merely a case of trying to incorporate too much hard earned research into the text. Some of these pieces could have been edited out for a punchier tale.

Still, there was a lot of intrigue, fast action and suspense in the prose. The monster becomes more and more real, until we actually see it through the eyes of agent Pendergast. It's evolution is still in doubt until the truth of it's origin is uncovered in the epilogue. (I still have trouble understanding how it made it back to the U.S./New York undetected.) And I loved how the ending left room for several continuations of the story. Kawakita: possibly infected (his asthma gone/his shoes too tight). Possible infection of drug users in New York city, as Kawakita doled out what he thought was a 'controlled' substance (pun intended). And what IF there were other connections to the virus-plant that were loose in the world? Many possibilities!

Overall, a very fun book, and I look forward to reading "Reliquary" in the future.


  1. Thank you so much for mentioning the similarities to "Hell Boy." I love that movie and it explains the similar sense of deja vu, I had while reading the novel.

    I really enjoyed the scientific details, but I agree that they slowed the pacing and lightened the tension. Good catch on some of the factual errors. I also loved the epilogue that eluded to a continuation of the story since that keeps people reading your books. I love it when authors do that. I get so excited for the next novel.

    1. Thanks for the comments Nicole. :0) I loved Hell Boy, but wasn't so keen on the 2nd film. It's a shame it wasn't as good. Still, I'm an HB fan. :)

  2. I met the dude who created Hellboy at Comic Con a few years back. Sweetest guy ever.

    I kinda figured this would be more your style than mine. It's a good book, but science was never my bag. I'm more the wispy poet-type. There was a lot of good stuff in it, though.

    You probably have met a few commandos in your life. Does Agent Pendergast come off as Special Forces to you?

  3. I LOVED Hellboy, and wish I could have met the creator and bought him a shot or two! :)

    You ARE the wispy poet man. And fun thing about it is no one would know it just looking at you. You got the external Joe Cool going on, but you've got a melty sweet center. :)

    Yeah, I was thinking Agent P. was more like an experienced FBI Behavior Analysis geek with lots of previous trigger time. Maybe Army CID until he got too smart for the armed forces to handle. Met those guys, and wonder why they stay FBI because the pay is definitely NOT that good, but I'm glad they are excellent at what they do!

  4. The book really did drag in spots. I love science, but there was too much thrown in that ultimately had no bearing on the plot. The story could have been much leaner. A couple other things bothered me as well, but it's not the worst book I've read by any means.

  5. Joe, wispy is not a word I'd use to describe you. And Cin, this reminded me of another movie, THE RELIC, but I guess it should.

  6. Yeah, I saw that movie least I think I did, or maybe it's just deja-vu. :)

  7. I actually watch the movie as well when it first came out. I read the subsequent books, but I don't think I'd ever actually read this one until now. I have to say that I didn't like it nearly as well as some of the more recent Pendergast books. The gallery opening felt like deja vu to me, and then I remembered that they did the same thing in a subsequent Pendergast novel, but did it much better.

    I also felt that the novel dragged in parts. A lot of that was unneeded technical information, but there was also a fair amount of exposition that wasn't needed at all. My paperback version is almost 500 pages (with small text and tight margins), which is probably twice the length that the novel needed to be.

  8. 500 pages? Wow...that's a compacted set of tree fibers! :)

  9. I ended up really liking the end of the book. The last chapter was so damn overly happy and I couldn't decide how I felt about it. All these characters who didn't necessarily belong together all got together to party cause they all won. Happy, but cliche. But I did really like the dark epilogue at the end. The implications of Kawakita's experiments were pretty intense. I don't know if I'd want a sequel in the form of dealing with an army of those things--cause where would that lead, really?--but I do like that it left off on such a foreboding scene.

  10. I made a mental note when they said ballistics analysis, too, because there was no gun fire. I'm definitely not near as informed on the subject as you, so I let it slide. Great comment! Also interesting tidbit about the pituitary. I suppose Preston and Child had so much other true information mixed in I didn't catch any errors, but I'm not surprised they're there.

  11. Wow, you caught a lot more 'did not do their research' moments in the story then I did. Of course a lot of the story reminded me of the old Michael Crichton novels which always at least gave the illusion of being well researched (the bibliography at the back of Andromeda Strain is fake I've heard).

    Still the supercomputer really bugs me, it's worse then the 'enhance button' we always get in modern crime fiction... you can't just enhance an image that way, just like you can't have a computer spit out a complete description of a creature either.