In The Cabinet of Curiosities, Douglas Preston and his collaborator,
Lincoln Child, bring together a couple of heroes from earlier booksNora
Kelly from Thunderhead and FBI agent Pendergast of Reliquaryas
well as returning, at least briefly, to the setting of their very
first best-seller, Relicthe huge, rambling New York
Museum of Natural History.
This thrill-ride of a tale takes place in modern-day New York, yet
it is very much a period piece, with a major touch of melodrama
to match tone to setting. The writers use their usual painstaking
research to breathe life back into 1880s New York and the freak-show-style
cabinets of curiosities that were part of what passed
for science in that day. The anachronistic setting seems particularly
fitting for Pendergast, who could have stepped right out of a Sherlock
One warning: Those who demand total verisimilitude may grumble.
Some plot twists turn on unexplained coincidences or upon a level
of genius approaching the supernatural. And theres that playfully
gothic hue to the whole story, from the silver-eyed FBI agentwhose
ancient Eastern meditation enables him to picture whole chess games
or lay out entire cities in his headto the malevolent genius
lurking in the shadows. But the action is so clever and fast-moving,
and the characters so much fun, that the burden of suspending disbelief
is never onerous, and the payoff is a cabinet of curiosities that
is well worth the price of admission.
Back Into the Hotzone
Richard Prestons best-selling Hotzone brought home
with breathtaking realism the spectres of ebola and other emerging
viruses that are just beginning to prey upon humanity. His new book,
however, The Demon in the Freezer, combines some very old
horrors of the microscopic world with the breathtaking darkness
of the human heart. The result may be even more chilling.
Starting with events still vivid in all our memories, Preston takes
us behind the scenes of last years high-profile anthrax attack,
then segues neatly to his title characterthe smallpox virus
in its frozen sleep. As in Hotzone, he begins by letting
us experience in minute detail the horrors of the disease itself,
then expands the scene to his larger storya tale that resembles
a Greek tragedy, but on a species-wide scale. It combines perhaps
humankinds noblest achievementthe eradication of the
scourge of smallpox from the face of the earthwith its most
stunning act of hubristhe large-scale transformation of that
scourge into a weapon of war.
Prestons portraits of the men and women on the front lines
of the battle against bioterrorism are, as always, engaging. His
skill in bringing the reader into the hotzone with himto experience
the sights and smells and chills of working with this frozen but
evolving (with a human assist) demonis, as usual, compelling.
And the books final scene, in which Preston reflects upon
the preserved arm of a tiny smallpox victim, is likely to stay with
you for a long time.