Review

The Cabinet of Curiosities

by Douglas Preston



Call me a rube. I had never been to New York City until February
2002. My reactions were 1) "Where is everybody going?"; 2)
"Everything is so big!"; and 3) "You mean the main post
office goes on for blocks?!" I'm glad, I guess, that I didn't see
the Museum of Natural History, which, after reading THE CABINET OF
CURIOSITIES, I come to understand consists of blocks and blocks of
buildings as well. Reading THE CABINET, however, makes me want to
drive there right now and spend hours --- no, days --- walking
through it.

The Museum of Natural History provides a partial backdrop for THE
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and
also permits the reintroduction of museum archeologist Nora Kelly,
last seen in THUNDERHEAD. The faintly endearing, faintly obnoxious
William Smithback Jr. is along as well; his on again, off again
relationship with Kelly is interesting but occasionally annoying.
The most welcome return, however, is that of the enigmatic Special
Agent Pendergast, whose appearances in RELIC and RELIQUARY made
those books and add immeasurably to this one.

THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES is the name given to what was a 19th
century museum for the lower classes. Part circus sideshow, part
collection, part Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not, the cabinets were a
collection of oddities, always strange, often grotesque, and
occasionally fraudulent. THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES begins on the
Manhattan construction site of a modern apartment tower that is to
be built on the site of one of the former cabinets. When the
construction workers break into a sub-level structure, however,
they discover the remains of 36 people, apparently murdered,
brutally dismembered, by person or persons unknown, over 130 years
ago. Pendergast appears almost immediately and enlists Kelly in an
investigation that almost ends before it begins. As they doggedly
pursue their research, they discover the almost vanished trail of a
doctor who conducted bizarre and cruel medical experiments on the
less fortunate citizens of that time and place.

Their investigation raises almost as many questions as it answers
--- one being why Pendergast is so interested in a crime committed
over a century beforehand --- and multiple agencies, including the
mayor, the museum, and the police department, seem to be more
interested in covering up the discoveries and moving on than
solving anything. Smithback, trying to help Kelly in his haphazard
way, writes a newspaper article about the investigation and the
apparent stonewalling by the museum. His actions, however, simply
cause more trouble for Kelly at the museum and, more significantly,
appear to ignite a new wave of surgical mutilation and murder --- a
wave that appears to wash up right at the front door of the
museum.

Preston and Child might be accused of returning to the well by
reintroducing Kelly, Smithback, and Pendergast; while this is so,
what they draw out is still fresh and exciting. THE CABINET OF
CURIOSITIES reveals much --- but by no means all --- about
Pendergast's background, and he continues, even at the conclusion,
to be one of the more interesting contemporary characters in
adventure fiction. Preston and Child also very nicely, and
credibly, link Pendergast to the murders of the past and present,
while setting up the possibility of his involvement in future
novels. The ultimate marvel in THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, however,
is that Preston and Child continue to seamlessly weave tales that
are at once compelling, spellbinding and addicting.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

The Cabinet of Curiosities
by Douglas Preston

  • Publication Date: June 3, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446530220
  • ISBN-13: 9780446530224