RELIC by Douglas Preston

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human.

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing, along with FBI hotshot Aloysius Pendergast.

That’s the official plot description.  Actually, it starts off with a couple of scientist explorers in the Amazon hot on the trail of a hidden tribe.  They find artifacts, and an elderly woman warns them off.  One of them disappears, the other sends his finds back to the ship via their native guide/helper, and continues to look for his vanished partner and the tribe itself.  One of the things he has found is a relic — a small statue of a creature presumably the god of this tribe.  He also is never heard from again.

Cut to New York and the Museum of Natural History, where we meet a cast of interesting personages, and are stunned to learn that a couple of kids have been murdered in a vicious manner.  Then another.  What the deuce is happening?

It all hinges on a theory propounded by one of the museum’s scientists.  He says:

”Every sixty to seventy million years or so, life starts getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying. Slowly at first, then ever faster.”

Random mutation is very well known, and if a mutant form develops in the right environment with the right food supply, anything can happen.  He is proposing that what appears to be a creature with the intelligence of a human is living in the museum.  It appears it may have come in with the shipment from the Amazon sent by the disappeared scientist explorers.

The final third of the book is essentially thriller, with the creature stalking and killing, and the ending has one tiny twist that is a nifty surprise at the very end.

Although I am not usually a fan of evil slime-dripping creature stalking and killing stories, but because of the basis of this, I found it great for about two-thirds, and  generally OK after that.  Well, heck, I read it all the way through, didn’t I?   With relish.




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