The Cabinet
of Curiosities
by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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At a Manhattan construction site, workers make a startling find: a 19th century tunnel network and the dismembered remains of thirty-six murder victims.

FBI Special Agent Pendergrast is on the scene almost immediately. He wants to treat the site as a crime scene of archaeological significance. The builder prefers to bury the bodies properly and resume construction immediately.

Pendergrast utilizes the assistance of Nora Kelly, accomplished New York Museum of Natural History archaeologist, to investigate the gruesome crimes. The construction site is the former home of one of the 19th century "cabinets of curiosities." These collections combined the oddities of science with a freak show-type atmosphere which attracted large audiences.

The investigation leads to the identification of a reclusive scientist who rented rooms at this particular cabinet of curiosity. As Pendergrast and Kelly are researching the past, a string of copycat murders are being committed in the present. How are the homicides related? The chilling answer is revealed in The Cabinet of Curiosities.

The story is divided between two equally haunting settings. Preston and Child allow readers to discover the dark, disturbing innards of the museum. Never has natural history been so frightening and fun. The Cabinet of Curiosities ranks high on the blood-and-guts meter. Be prepared for memorable scenes of tortuous murder and mutilation executed by a man dubbed "The Surgeon."

Pendergrast and Kelly are billed as a team, though they actually work independently of each other. Preston and Child prefer to drive story instead of letting the characters do so, resulting in four people conducting four different investigations while only coming together occasionally to compare notes. Personally, I prefer a tighter plot where the players steer the tale.

Devoted Preston and Child fans may recognize Agent Pendergrast from The Relic. Nora Kelly and boyfriend William Smithback were part of Thunderhead. Virtually no background information from these two novels is given in The Cabinet of Curiosities. New readers are left in the dark regarding Pendergrast's history with the museum and the pre-established relationship between Kelly and Smithback. You may want to read The Relic and Thunderhead first so the characters' relationships and development are explained in preparation for this title.

The Cabinet of Curiosities combines chilling suspense, unspeakable crimes and the oddities of science in an unforgettable tale. The most discerning critics will be drawn into the dark secret passageways of The Surgeon. Preston and Child have created their own gruesome and entertaining cabinet of curiosity to which seasoned readers will certainly flock.

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