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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Relic

By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
A Tor Book, 468 pp, 1995

Something in the New York Museum of Natural History is murdering people. Weíre talking savage killings here. Disembowelments. Beheadings. Eating brains. It seems to be connected with a new exhibition about to open, Superstition, in which the museum has invested millions. Thousands are expected to attend, including celebrities, even the mayor.

Such is the intriguing premise of Relic, one of the Horror Writerís Associationís Top 40 Horror Books of all Time. Itís well-paced but not terribly frightening until the latter third, when it really takes off and doesnít let up until the end. The characters are likeable if not terribly memorable, but the book isnít character-driven. They are mainly pulled along in the tide of events, against their will. The monster is the star attraction, yet oddly isnít around much until the latter third, and even then the authors do not describe it much. The paperback version I bought (used, by the way, from the local library, for fifty cents) contains a picture of it, so the authors evidently felt they didnít need to tell us much about its appearance. However, we do learn more about it in a clever twist at the very end, which sets up an inevitable sequel (Reliquary, 1998).

Many of the blurbs compare the book to other quasi-scientific thrillers like Jurassic Park and Jaws, yet Relic doesnít go overboard with the biological jargon. That is a good thing.

But on to the storyline. Years ago, a museum-funded expedition to the remote jungles of the Amazon went disastrously wrong Ė nobody made it back alive. However, some crates full of artifacts did make it to the museum, along with a figurine from a local tribe thought extinct. This statue represented some evil god they believed in and worshiped. It is an exact likeness of the murderous, brain-sucking monster.

As the body count adds up, museum researcher Margo Green and hired journalist Bill Smithback try to track down the killer. They are aided by a local cop and FBI agent from New Orleans, who investigated similar murders a few years prior.

Just before the grand opening of Superstition, Margo and her mentor Dr. Frock discover the true nature of the creature. Fearing the beast will embark on a killing spree, they try to warn Ian Cuthbert, the Deputy Director of the Museum, to close the exhibition, but naturally he refuses. In due course, a body is found, power goes out, mass panic ensues, and, well, it all hits the fan. Itís where the novel really gets good.

Overall, Relic is an enjoyable read. The first two-thirds could have been a bit more eventful, but the quick pacing prevents boredom from setting in. I recommend it.

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