The Short Version: Eighteen months after the horrifying events at the Natural History Museum, headless corpses begin to show up in New York City – and the city’s homeless are running scared from a new menace called “Wrinklers”. D’Agosta, Pendergast, Smithback, and Green are back on the case – and they quickly discover that the horrors of Mbwun might not’ve ended with the death of the beast…
The Review: Just as Jurassic Park had its gratuitous sell-out sequel… so too does Relic. Both of them suffer from a case of unnecessariness: they do not need to exist, based on what came before. They do bring us some joy – but it’s a hollow joy, like eating really terrible candy. The Lost World gave us more Ian Malcolm (and who doesn’t want more Jeff Goldblum in their lives?) while Reliquary gives us more Aloysius Pendergast. But I think Reliquary wins on the “bringing something interesting to the table” argument because it also delves into the fascinating world of subterranean New York City.
In what’s perhaps the most interesting part of the book overall, we explore a world that few New Yorkers (let alone anyone else in the country or the world) will ever get to see: the miles upon miles of tunnels that honeycomb this little island. It’s unclear how much of what Preston & Child whip up is true – but I know that at least a decent chunk of it is, including the various failed subway lines and the private rail lines that were meant for the original one-percenters like the Astors and Carnegies and Rockefellers. Hell, there’s a secret tunnel underneath Lafayette Street that used to connect what is now the Public Theater (then the Astor Library) to what is now the Astor Theater (then the Astor homestead) – and that’s barely breaking the surface.
In the afterword of the book, the authors mention that “as many as five thousand or more homeless people” live under the streets of New York City. The lightly fictionalized examination of them here – and the cruelty and brutality with which the wealthy, privileged, and even ordinary citizens of New York treat them is heartbreaking. As far as this city has come in the last 17 years, it’s clear that we haven’t really come very far at all.
Onto the story at hand.
I can’t really say anything more accurate than what I’ve already said: unnecessary. The plot twists are gratuitous, including the big reveal at the end, and there are a handful of what can really only be described as coincidences that feel too good to be true. Smithback’s involvement is a bit forced while Hayward’s introduction feels perfunctory at best. It’s lovely to see our old friends Green, D’Agosta, and Pendergast – but only one of them, it quickly becomes clear, can support the weight of another story… and, unsurprisingly, that’s Pendergast. His introduction, a wonderful tip of the hat to Sherlock Holmes, comes not a moment too soon and the book falters when he’s kept off-stage for too long. It’s not that Margo and D’Agosta aren’t interesting or enjoyable – but Pendergast, like a magnesium flare, just shines brighter.
As for the rest of the plot… I don’t want to give it away, but let’s just say that the cover is a lie. Mbuwn has a connection to all of this but the way things have developed in just 18 short months since the tantalizing epilogue of Relic feels… it feels forced. Like evolution directed instead of allowed to take a natural course, if no one minds me stealing a bit of ‘science talk’ from the novel.
Rating: 2 out of 5. Yes, the book still reads at a blistering pace and you’re still going to get some enjoyment out of it, if you’re coming to the book for Pendergast completeness… but I can’t really say that you’re going to find anything as organically enjoyable as that first book. The most fascinating thing to come out of the text is the tantalizing (and only lightly fictionalized) look into the world that exists beneath Manhattan’s streets and subway lines, populated only barely and yet by more homeless than anyone really grasps. Perhaps there are still places to be explored – and where there may be monsters. Scarier to think that those places are under my feet, but exciting nonetheless. In the meantime, I look forward to picking up with Pendergast outside of the shadow of Mbwun…