Relic!

I read Relic back in the early 1990’s. It turns out that I have watched and/or read much of the material for this course. The rub is, I don’t remember a lot of it! I recall reading Relic, but I have no recollection of the actual contents of the book. Years ago, I thought it was funny when my dad didn’t remember seeing a movie he’d watched six months ago; now that I’m in the same boat, it’s not so funny.

I almost gave up on Relic after the first chapter, which is a veritable cornucopia of clichés. Whittlesey is part of a disastrous expedition in the Amazon Basin. I couldn’t decide whether Whittlesey knows that he’s a character in a horror novel and just wants to collect his paycheck, or if he took too many blows to the head in the high school chess club.

What am I talking about? Let’s see: 1. Whittlesey’s companion vanishes mysteriously when they are researching a feared tribe that worships a satanic lizard-ape. 2. The hair of Whittlesey’s native guide turns white when they 3. enter a hut full of shattered human skulls. When Whittlesey decides to soldier on alone in search of his companion, my eyes were rolling so hard I’m surprised they didn’t spin out of my head.

What saves Relic is the American Museum of Natural History. Fun fact: for about six months in the 1990’s when my OCD was really bad I would drive into New York City every weekend, park my car and walk around the AMNH. I visited the galleries in a certain order. I don’t recall what order anymore. I liked the Hall of African Mammals, the Arthur Ross Hall of The Meteorites and anything to do with the dinosaurs.

Anyway: I spent a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History, and so did one of the authors – I’m betting Mr. Preston –because he does a wonderful job describing the ins and outs of the building. He goes behind the scenes of the museum, bringing to life the people who work there and the weird jobs they have, the crap that’s been sitting untouched in the basement since the 1930’s and the museum politics. These descriptions are what kept me reading.

The plot is fairly boilerplate with a few twists thrown in. We have Margo, the likable graduate student; Lieutenant D’Agosta, the hard-boiled cop with a heart of gold; Smithback, the hard-boiled newspaperman with a heart of gold; the crazy scientist; and the Museum Cabal, a group of administrators who cover up a murder. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Agent Cooper – I mean Agent Mulder – I mean Agent Pendergast.

Agent Pendergast has godlike powers. Reading this book, I formed the unbreakable conviction that this dude is good at EVERYTHING. I have no doubt he could whip up a Roast Duck a ‘lOrange for a dinner party at a moment’s notice and know what side of the plate the fork goes on. When the Museum Monster – who may have something to do with that disastrous expedition – develops a taste for tourist brains, Pendergast takes over the investigation because the murders are similar to – oh well, don’t think too much about it. What’s important is that he’s here!

There are two big plot twists in Relic. I assumed the crates from the expedition were full of monster eggs, but I was wrong. They are the monster’s food source, which sounds good until you realize that the contents of those crates kept the monster satiated for years – which means it’s a herbivore, right? No, it also eats rats and tourist brains which means it’s an omnivore!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reliable website listing the nutritional contents of a rat on Google. If I do find anything, rest assured I’ll update immediately. Let’s assume the Museum Monster needs to consume 10,000 calories per day to do his monstering duties. That adds up to a lot of rats. No wonder it switched to tourists.

Despite the monster’s new diet, the Museum Cabal goes ahead with the opening of their prized exhibit, which I have no problem with plot-wise. They’re rich and powerful, and such people usually get their way. The actual opening of the exhibit is a disaster, requiring the coordinated snafus of many incompetent people to pull off.

The plot dashes on. Bullets bounce off the Museum Monster’s skull! Pendergast turns out to be a crack shot! The scientist I thought was going to turn out be crazy doesn’t turn out to be crazy! The FBI agent who takes charge after Pendergast ends up being transferred to Waco, which may or may not be a tasteless joke on the authors’ part. There’s also the second plot twist, which is pretty clever.

All in all, Relic is an entertaining read. If you like the American Museum of Natural History, it’s a must read!

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