It would be easy for a reviewer to criticize The Cabinet of Curiosities for its overly-melodramatic plotting and its sometimes stock characters (why is every female scientist ALWAYS so beautiful she could pose for a
men's magazine?), but one shouldn't get into an overly critical mode when judging this book, for one primary reason:
it's so much fun to read. Authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (who've
already co-penned seven other "scientific" thrillers, including Relic and The Ice
Limit) succeed in creating an entertaining, engrossing page-turner that is almost impossible to put down until the final page.
The story opens at a construction site in Manhattan in New York City where, in digging the foundation for a new high-rise building, workers discover an old tunnel filled with dozens of
human bodies. An old grave site? Politics enter. The owner of the building site is fearful that the site will be closed to construction and so quickly has the bodies moved and buried in a cemetery before construction can be halted. Quickly moved, but not quickly enough to keep some interested parties from examining the site. FBI Agent Pendergast is interested in the site (for personal as well as professional reasons) and hastily contacts Nora Kelly, an archaeologist employed by the New York Museum, and convinces her to go with him to the site before it is permanently destroyed to analysis.
After some examination, they learn that it is not a grave site at all. Each
of the bodies was brutally murdered. A serial killer was walking the streets of
New York in the 1870's and 1880's. As horrible as the crimes were (and they were horrific, with experiments being performed on the
victims while they were still alive), they occurred long ago. Surely there's nothing here that warrants a police investigation today?
Well, that might have been true except, inexplicably, copy-cat murders suddenly begin to occur in New York City. New victims are being taken off the streets of the city and their bodies mutilated, experimented upon, in the exact manner as were the victims more than one hundred years earlier. What triggered these new murders? What is the connection between them and those
long-ago killings? What is the connection between the current murders and the existence of a mysterious medical doctor, a scientist, who was most likely the serial killer of the past? This is what Pendergast (with Nora Kelly's assistance, and the help of others) must discover if the current murders are to cease and the current killer brought to justice.
The novel is very well written and evokes the mood of an earlier time. In many cases the reader might feel that the New York of today is still the New York of the 1880's. This sense is enhanced by the fact that the current killer dons the outerwear of an earlier time, wearing derby and cape as he strolls New York for his next potential victim. I'm fairly certain that any similarity between this killer and Jack the Ripper is intentional.
Protagonist FBI Agent Pendergast is a kind of formidable Sherlock Holmes type, with the added powers of a "superacute sense of hearing" and great wealth. He also knows the power of "Chongg Ran", an ancient Buddhist meditative practice that serves him well now and then. Pendergast can meditate so well it's almost as if he's having an out-of-body experience.
This book is meant to be pure entertainment, a "summer-action movie" type of book, filled with suspense and thrills, and in that regard it is highly successful. Read it and enjoy.