THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
Author: Dan Simmons
Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002
In a marketplace filled to overflowing with serial killers, FBI agents, and mysterious murders, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have found a way to make their thrillers stand out. Start off with the unlikely heroine of Nora Kelly, not-too-successful archeologist and employee of the New York Museum. Add a grisly cache of skeletons — the victims of a serial killer who lived almost 100 years ago. And polish the premise with a smooth, brilliant, uncanny Fed unlike any seen before, and you’ve got the making of one taut mystery.
Special Agent Pendergast (and exactly how “special” he is becomes more apparent with every page) seems to appear from nowhere and light soundlessly in Nora’s career path. Pendergast wants her help to uncover the identity of the murderer responsible for the 36 sets of remains found during a building excavation. Nora has different goals in mind, but she finds herself sucked into the irresistible force of Pendergast’s will. It may well mean the end of her association with the museum. For her lover, William Smithback, it is the story of a lifetime and though it may be a deadly one to pursue, he cannot quit now; solving the puzzle may be his only hope to win him back Nora’s trust.
It’s a unique band who set out to track down a killer from the past, even as the bizarre mutilation murders begin again in the city. Bureaucracy and political power are working against them; at times, they seem to be working against each other. The combination of their special knowledge — and their flaws — represent the only hope of stopping a madman from achieving his ultimate, horrific objective.
Child and Preston weave the story into delightful tension with individual and overlapping points of view that make the characters more than merely interesting mannequins, but integral pieces of the action as a whole. Segments revealing a glimpse of the killer tighten the screws without ever giving up a solid clue to his identity. Similarly, readers learn a scrap here and a shred there shedding some light on the remarkable, elusive Pendergast.
Nora, Smithback, and Pendergast are no strangers to Preston and Child’s legion of fans and The Cabinet of Curiosities is the perfect setting to bring them all together. The same hint of the paranormal permeates this novel as in their previous works. Readers should be delighted to know Pendergast, that smooth Southern gentleman with the questionable background, returns in Still Life With Crows, the pair’s next thriller.
Maybe it’s the touch of “otherworld” or the relentless pace, but the authors manage to turn a hefty novel into a breakneck read. Or, maybe it’s the strange attraction/repulsion of these cabinets that draws the reader in so very deep. Child and Preston have a way of making the possibility that each of us might become a pathetic attraction ourselves seem just a little bit too conceivable…