Customer Reviews: The Cabinet of Curiosities: A Novel (Pendergast Series Book 3)
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"The Cabinet Of Curiosities" is the first book I've read by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and now I look forward to reading more of their work. I understand that many of this book's characters are from their earlier novels, but this character revival does not disturb the narrative's flow at all. All necessary background is explained well, and gives depth to the relationships and plotline. My one complaint about this novel is that it is at least 100 pages too long. The authors build suspense to a fever pitch, the tension peaks, begins to fall-off, and their point is still not made, nor are the various mysteries solved. There are also two endings. One is not very satisfying, and the other, much better conclusion, is found in the epilogue. The lack of tightness in the narrative, makes the novel weaker than it would have been with better editing. That said, this is a real thriller, and scary/chilling to boot - the way Stephen King's early novels are scary.
During the excavation for the construction of a sixty-five story residential tower in lower Manhattan, a charnel house of murder victims is discovered. The 36 victims were destitute youths, residing along the crime-ridden waterfront of 1870s New York City. They were buried beneath what was then known as Shottum's Cabinet. Cabinets of curiosities housed strange & diverse collections of artifacts, and were the precursors to the natural history museum.
FBI Special Agent Pendergast enters the story to investigate this most heinous of American serial murders. He calls upon Dr. Nora Kelly, archeologist, conservator and researcher at New York's Museum of Natural History, for assistance in his investigation. Dr. Kelly, in turn involves her fiance, New York Times investigative reporter William Smithback. Together they discover the eerie background of the murders. Just after Smithback's indiscreet article appears on his newspaper's front page, new murder victims begin to appear. The modus operendi is the same. The major difference is that the original victims were killed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The new victims were murdered at the beginning of the twenty-first, seemingly by the same killer. Is this a copycat crime, or something much more disturbing?
I was on the edge of my seat throughout this novel - just couldn't put it down. The historical detail is a wonderful addition. I would have rated the book five stars, except for the annoying flaws mentioned above. Still, I highly recommend "The Cabinet of Curiosities" as a very unusual mystery, and a spine-chilling read!
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VINE VOICEon May 30, 2002
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's seventh novel has been a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait. It represents, without question, their best writing to date. As always, the scene is set with great skill, but now their talent for set piece drama has evolved into excellent characterization and superbly subtle plot development.
It would be difficult for me to describe the story without spoiling the plot, but I can safely say that "The Cabinet of Curiosities" is a diabolically twisted thriller. What starts out as a seemingly standard, albeit very creepy, serial killer mystery rapidly develops into something far more bizarre, and vastly more sinister. I read a lot, and it is rare that I am caught completely off guard by plot twists, but with one hundred pages to go I was hit with not one, but two! The authors deftly throw the reader off guard at a key moment, which makes the concluding chapters absolutely breathless.
As I alluded to earlier, the writing in this novel is outstanding; "The Cabinet of Curiosities" is much more thoughtful than their earlier novels, and significantly darker. While still showing their roots in the "techno-thriller" genre, Preston and Child have branched out into considerations of love, madness and morality. Whereas their earlier novels certainly told a great story, and contained tragically flawed characters, this novel makes an excellent stab at exploring the heart of darkness in a much more methodical, dare I say, literary, way.
Of particular note in this regard is the character of Pendergast. For those readers who are unfamiliar with "Relic" and "Reliquary", he is an FBI agent with remarkably refined tastes, and equally unorthodox methods. The best way I could think to describe him would be if you turned Hannibal Lecter into a good guy (while is in no way insinuating that he was ripped off, which he clearly wasn't). At any rate, he was always an intriguing character, I would even go so far to say that he was the authors' best to date, but he was also somewhat two-dimensional. Mystery is one thing, but it can come at the expense of character development. "In Cabinet of Curiosities", however, Pendergast has been given an enormous depth of personality, and his background has been revealed in such a way that deepens the mystery surrounding him even as it injects him with a sense of pathos. He is now a fully realized, and immensely interesting character that I look forward to encountering again.
Ultimately, "The Cabinet of Curiosities" will make a great beach read for the summer, but it is much more than that. It is a well-crafted, very suspenseful and deeply thoughtful novel that should ranks among the best popular fiction of the year, and I recommend it highly. Finally, my praise for this novel should in no way be construed as disparaging to the authors' prior books; I have bought, read, re-read, and enjoyed the all. It is just that in this novel, Preston and Child have taken their writing to a whole new level and I felt it bore mentioning. If you haven't read their other novels do yourself a favor and order them at the same time as this one.
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This is the first book I've read by this writing team, though it will not be my last. Preston and Child work well together, and I'm interested in reading their solo work as well.

In this not-quite-contemporary setting (only one person has a cell phone, for instance), New Orleans FBI Special Agent Pendergast is inexplicably interested in the recent discovery of a charnel beneath a New York construction site. He builds a team of assistants: Nora Kelly, Utahan archaeologist determined to make a go of her once-in-a-lifetime chance at working at the world's greatest natural history museum; William Smithback, reporter aching for a Pulitzer (and a suit worthy of the acceptance ceremony); Patrick O'Shaughnessy, a sergeant in the NY Police Department, fifth generation cop at the mercy of a cruel and petty precinct captain; Proctor, his invisible and indispensable chauffeur.

These main characters, excepting Proctor, are well fleshed out and engaging, while Pendergast himself is an intriguing variant on the Sherlock Holmes-style detective. (These characters appear in other books by the same authors.) A healthy field of minor characters are also three-dimensional. Settings are vivid and evocative. Dialogue flows naturally. And bonus -- I even learned a little about urban archaeology and the scientific/fantastical collections of the title.

Very well done. I'm anxious to read more from these authors and to read more about these characters. If you are interested in an intelligent thriller rooted in NYC history, you will probably enjoy this too. If you like Caleb Carr, Iain Pears or Jack Finney, you will likely appreciate this masterful and gripping mystery.
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on November 4, 2002
I am a huge fan of books with a historical basis. On the same coin I am also very critical of these books. This makes me very picky in the books I chose to read and the ones I actually finish. Once again, Douglas Preston and Lincoln child did not dissapoint. This book is a perfect mix of museum intrigue, suspense, and horror all against a rich backdrop of 19th century New York. Their attention to detail is key to making the fantastic story seem possible.
In addition, Preston and Child do an excellent job of writing women. They do not fall into the trap of describing female characters in terms of her long legs and breast size that seems so typical in these sort of novels. Nora Kelly, first introduced in Thunderhead, is a believable woman and museum professional. I think female readers will appreciate this apparently unique view in a male dominated genre.
The book left me with only one pressing question: When is the next one coming out????
Pendergrast fans will love this book. Make sure to read the alternate ending posted on the official webpage:
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on December 7, 2004
'THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES' is one book in a series from the writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child that seems to have a pretty big cult following. The premise for this book in particular interested me, when an underground charnel is found during construction of a new high-rise, FBI agent Pendegrast's interests are aroused and when new victims begin turning up seemingly linked to the 19th century murders Pendegrast begins the hunt for a potential copycat serial killer and must find the link between the two killers. Sounds interesting enough right? Well it was, until the end, which really disappointed me. I was completely engrossed in the first two thirds of this book; however, I found some aspects of the final chapters of the book to be a little too implausible and other aspects to be a little too easy. This could easily have been a five star book, in my opinion, but the ending just did not do it for me. So while I thought that this book was good, it was not as good as I tought it could have been so it only gets three stars from this reviewer.
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on June 5, 2002
I ordered this book from Amazon and read it in less than two days. And it's almost six hundred pages long. That's how well it sucks you in.
If there weren't a million great reasons already to read this book, such as the chilling plot, the unexpected twists and turns, and the endearing characters, you would simply HAVE to read it for this reason alone: Pendergast. I have yet to meet a person who read the 'Relic' series and did not like this character. Intelligent, charming, and infinitely deep, he's a modern-day Sherlock Holmes with a shrouded past. He's one of the most complex characters ever written. Read it and try to prove me wrong.
I've become a big enough fan of Preston and Child's books to know that this one is my all-time favorite. Though the plot is much darker than the others, it is no less terrifying or powerful. The last page is every bit as moving as the rest of the novel. ...But that doesn't mean that gives you the right to spoil it for yourself.
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on June 7, 2002
In this excursion through dusty archives, gleaming surgical instruments, Gotham real estate and Gothic grand guignol, Preston and Child maintain their gold standard for setting spine and brain tingling at once. Engaging protagonists (not, for once, all at one another's throats) lead us down the low streets of modern and Victorian lower Manhattan, through a tangle of jack-in-the-box surprises.
The Preston and Child authorial tag team writes thrillers on the same sorts of themes Michael Crichton would, but they are far better at it. Of their works to date, this one is clothed in the thinnest veneer of scientific credibility (for me forfeiting a fifth star, though most readers probably won't mind.) But their mastery of pacing, gift for a balanced roster of characters, and sheer sense of ghoulish fun, are fully intact, and carry the day again.
Among many grace notes, I particularly appreciated their quiet nod to H. P. Lovecraft, in naming their hideously long-lived serial killer after HPL's mysterious Plateau of Leng. These bricked-up basementscapes are reminiscent of several of the Providence master's works, from The Horror at Red Hook to Charles Dexter Ward.
On the night you start reading it, don't plan on getting in to work early the next day.
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VINE VOICEon November 5, 2002
I have a small list of "MUST READ" authors, and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child are ON that list. 'The Cabinet of Curiosities' is easily one of my favorite novels from these two incredibly gifted storytellers. It also reunites 3 characters from several of their previous novels.
FBI Agent Pendergast is without-a-doubt one of my favorite characters in ALL of modern fiction...I'd go into details and explain more, but I'd need a whole lot more room than I have available here.
Journalist Bill Simithback, who is mostly referred to in 'Cabinet' as William, certainly provides a great deal to this tale, especially towards the end.
Nora Kelly, whom we first got to know in the fantastic, 'Thunderhead'.
All three characters play pivotal roles in what is at once a modern murder/mystery/thriller masterpiece with supernatural undertones. Has a mad scientist actually perfected a formula for extending life? Dr. Enoch Leng seems to be one of the most brutal and sadistic serial killers in American history, but he doesn't murder for the joy of taking life, his profoundly disturbing experiments come to light quite by accident when a century-old crime scene is uncovered in lower Manhattan. Agent Pendergast shows up out of nowhere with a curiously obsessive interest in the murders -- which we won't get to figure out until right towards the very end. He pulls Nora Kelly away from her duties at the New York Museum of Natural first she is totally puzzled at why she of all people is called in to help. What could Pendergast possibly hope to accomplish in solving this crime? Surely the killer has been dead for half-a-century by now...right? His connection to Enoch Leng and his bizarre scientific research is quite an interesting one, THAT'S for sure.
There are a few true surprises at the end of this tale, and getting there certainly WAS a journey well worth taking. ...
... Because like I said, I have a very small list of "Must Read" authors, and after having read ALL of their books thus far, they have EARNED that right in my opinion by continuously writing incredible novels of adventure & mystery. GREAT read!!
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on June 25, 2002
Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child have been consistently writing novels that keep me reading until the early hours of the morning. The Cabinet of Curiosities was along the same lines as their other works, seeing that I finished it at 2am! The writing style is easy to read and these two keep the action/surprises there mixed in with the brilliant details making their books almost impossible to put down!
The Cabinet of Curiosities was a wonderful novel that brought great action and scientific details together to form a compelling story. The Characters of Nora Kelly, Bill Smithback and Agent Pendergast are back and they form a great trio that moves this book along at a great pace.
The Novel has all of the great twists and turns that you come to expect from these two authors, and they are at the top of their game in this one. I would highly recommend this book and I would also recommend all of the other Preston Child books as they will not disappoint!
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VINE VOICEon January 29, 2003
For anyone looking for a can't-put-it-down page turner that is literate, crafted, and informative, this is an excellent book. Preston and Child keep getting better, particularly in terms of character development, intricacy of plot, and the inclusion of detailed historical and scientific material that renders the book more than merely first-rate entertainment.
The sections dealing with the geography and culture of 19th century Manhattan are rivetingly terrific, and as far as I can discern, factually accurate. Similarly, the thematic matter relating to that curious institution called "cabinets of curiosities" is informative and fascinating.
The plot itself is fabulously laden with twists and turns and surprises. There are points in the story where I thought I had the trajectory of the novel all figured out, but Preston and Child proved me wrong. Indeed, they succeeding in maintaining the tension and anticipation right up until the very end of the book.
The one flaw I encountered is that as surprising as the ending/resolution of the story turns out to be, it ultimately didn't seem to me quite satisfactory. No spoilers here, however, so I shan't say more except to add that the book is well-crafted and entertaining enough to overcome this single weakness.
For those of us who love mystery/thrillers grounded in science and history, the works of Preston and Child have become required reading. This book leaves me awaiting even more eagerly their next novel.
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