Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lycanthropic Lizards, Oh My!

On the jacket of my copy of Relic, there’s a quote from the Hartford Courant that says, “Relic is as good as this type of novel gets.” Above that, another quote claims it’s a thriller, but I think it successfully incorporates several genres--yet, at its core, it’s a mystery. Of course, in this mystery, the murderer just happens to be a monster.
Readers aren’t left guessing who the murderer is. Instead, they wonder why the murderer is in the museum and what the motives are of the numerous characters in the story. Since I consider this a mystery, and I will be discussing the entire story, I would like to give a fair warning that there will be spoilers in this blog.
Okay, that’s a fair warning. So, back to the monster. Until the prologue, readers assume the creature is an environmental abomination, but the prologue suggests the monster is a hybrid, a lycanthropic lizard. Although it took me until the end to realize who the beast turned out to be, I had my suspicions, for a long while, that the creature was originally human.
What gave me my suspicion was one of the factors that qualified this novel as a mystery: elusive details. Relic is filled with scientific details, which mirror the qualities of human interrogations. At one point, a computer program even resorts to witty dialogue as the scientists try to determine DNA matches. Through the book, details are given and details are left out; readers are never given a complete picture, but a picture is painted. That picture included an unstable virus that mutated a plant that this monster fed upon. The picture also included a suspension of disbelief that this creature miraculously evolved and was a sole survivor in an isolated jungle. One plus one equals.... Realizing the suspension of disbelief was too far fetched and considering the possibility that the virus might mutate humans spun the solution in my mind--as I’m sure it did for others because mysteries are set up to keep readers thinking, trying to solve the case, and feel proud of themselves when they do.
As a hybrid, the monster held more of a punch for me. Thinking of a person morphing, becoming addicted to drugs, losing their humanity, and turning murderous--this all made the creature more horrifying to me than a jungle monster on the loose (and for the record I hated both versions of King Kong). I also found the mystery of how Whittlesey ingested the plants disturbing. There was a suggestion that he was force fed them, and that made me cringe with delight. However, I found that to be improbable. The monster was intelligent and apparently kept some parts of his human memories if he decided to come back and stay in New York; if he would have been tortured into becoming a monster, I think he would have just ripped the skulls off every Kothoga in the world before catching a ride by to the Big Apple. But this is just a guess.
The second concept in the book that sent shivers up my spine was the monsters larder. Thinking of a monster hoarding bodies of people and pets for years in tunnels just beneath my feet is quite disturbing. Also, the idea is solidified by including two victims who had taken part in the story prior to their decapitated bodies being discovered.
From what I’ve said, it should be obvious that Relic was worth reading and it did have chilling moments, but I must say; I was not enthralled by it. I imagine part of this was the characterization of the protagonist. There were many characters, but Margo was arguably the main protagonist, and her character came across as pretty blank. At times, I thought her character could be taken out, her interactions could be changed to inner dialogue, and the story would not be altered in the least. Although, she’s set up as having some complicated issues (her father’s passing and her career decision), her struggles with those are ignored. She tends to sleep walk through the whole story on a crutch. That crutch is always a male counterpart: Moriarty, Kawakita, and Frock. With Frock, I always pictured her standing behind him, holding herself up with his wheelchair--as if it were a crutch--as opposed to just pushing him. Pendergast, although arguably not the main protagonist, was the hero of the story and had a much more interesting back story that played into his character. Too bad none of the other characters shared such gifts. I enjoyed Pendergast’s character and can see how he’s being setup to be a hero in one of the other books, which is one of the main reasons I’m interested in picking them up.
I’m torn up about the epilogue. Although I did enjoy the twist, I couldn’t buy it. I know Kawakita thought he had manipulated the virus, but selling it as a drug seemed a bit silly (did Kawakita have party prescription connections the entire time?), and I can’t help but believe he would adjust his work or give it up if he started noticing significant changes in his sleeping habits. On a side note, if the government is willing to keep a small batch of Smallpox around for whatever reason, there’s no way they’d just burn all of this plant--which didn’t matter for this story, but I wondered if it will play more into the sequels.
On a final note, I loved the setting. The gothic and decrepit images I pictured were beautiful for a horror story. My only concern was--how can a building stay supported when its foundation floods every time rain hits. Most houses that flood will have collapsed foundations within a few years, which can lead to condemned properties or complete destruction. Again, I’ve heard that in Europe cities are built on top of other cities, so maybe there’s a construction style that doesn’t need to worry about severe flooding. I just don’t understand how it’s possible.


  1. Through my whole analysis of the book I didn’t even once consider the setting. I’m glad you brought that up. I liked the museum, and the ginormous underground sub-basement. I think the setting worked perfectly for this story and added to the tension due to its dark, labyrinth-like halls. As far as the rest of the story, I found it to be dry and full of exposition that didn’t need to be there.

  2. The setting was definitely a strong point, and I think it's because one of the authors worked and spent time at the museum and really knew his stuff when it came to that. Other areas were weak (autopsy, crime scene investigations) but I still enjoyed the story. As you pointed out, there were plot holes that could have benefited from explaining a bit more, and cutting out extraneous info on the anthropology, but overall I enjoyed it. Nice review, and I liked that you put a "Spoiler Alert" in your blog. I do that on Goodreads, but I hadn't thought of doing it on my blog. Great touch!

  3. I didn't mind the characters too much but I felt Pendergast was too perfect. He is the most intelligent man on earth and could make a living by staying on Jeopardy forever, and he never changes in Relic. His dialogue is wordy, even in times of turmoil.

    The rest of the characters I thought were okay. Nothing spectacular, though.
    --Jay Massiet

  4. I almost commented in my blog about Margo's backstory not going anywhere, but didn't, for some reason... That was one thing that really bothered me, though I enjoyed the book as a whole. She's struggling with her father's recent death, is receiving phone calls from home, from friends. There's setup in place to show her struggling with her grief and her future as the novel progresses, but then it just fades away. I think the novel would have been more accessible, packed more punch, if the technical passages were trimmed down and more time given to character development.