Neither Douglas Preston nor Lincoln Child likes to categorize their work. They feel that literature is too “genrecized” already and that what is important is for them to enjoy what they write and try to introduce readers to new jobs, places, and disciplines. Their novels combine so many elements and influences that they are nearly impossible to classify.
In Relic, Preston and Child introduced the notion of a museum as a bizarre microcosm of the world at large. Given the erudition of the New York Natural Museum of History, the nature of its exhibits, its labyrinthine passages, and its scientific equipment, the potential for a tale of horror and mad scientists as in the 1953 film House of Wax not only existed but also virtually begged to be brought to life. At the same time that Preston and Child were thinking about a museum mystery, a Holmesian figure presented himself to the authors in the person of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. According to Preston and Child, he sprang, Athena-like, fully formed into their minds. Within the Diogenes trilogy (Brimstone, 2004, Dance of Death, 2005, and Book of the Dead, 2006) there seems to be a Sherlock Holmes/Moriarty—Holmes/Mycroft reference at work. The rivalry between Special Agent Pendergast and his criminal brother Diogenes Pendergast is so intense that readers begin to think about their own familial relationships. Diogenes Pendergast is a totally evil literary character who reminds readers that, undoubtedly, several criminal masterminds like Diogenes have existed in real life.
Although the authors have suggested that The Cabinet of Curiosities (2002), a Pendergast novel, could be considered a nonseries novel, in actuality, it is Still Life with Crows (2003) that might fit in that category, as it takes place in the Midwest and away from New York and the museum. Relic and its successor, Reliquary (1997), are obviously related, a fact denoted by the titles: A reliquary is a place or thing designed to hold and protect relics, and what is a museum but a very large reliquary? In that sense, a cabinet of curiosities—holding a collection of rare and valuable things as it does—is also a reliquary. In some of the books, the museum is never far away from the consciousness of the characters, and in others the scene changes and becomes worldwide, offering the solution of one riddle while presenting the detective with another in the style of Dan Brown’s books about ancient mysteries. The mysteries of Preston and Child are, however, not that ancient, even if they sometimes seem to be. Their books are immediate life-or-death mysteries on behalf of characters that readers have come to know and to like.
Preston and Child have developed complex plots in...
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