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The Cabinet of Curiosities    by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child order for
Cabinet of Curiosities
by Douglas Preston
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Cabinet of Curiosities brings back engaging protagonists from an earlier novel, Thunderhead, in which archaeologist Nora Kelly and journalist Bill Smithback Jr. struggled to survive in a legendary lost city of the Anasazi Indians. This time the horror is to be found closer to home (though over one hundred and thirty years in the past) in lower Manhattan.

A building site excavation has uncovered what may be the oldest serial killing in American history - the remains of thirty-six mutilated bodies inside a precursor to modern museums, the Shottum's 'cabinet of curiosities'. Nora Kelly is pulled from her research at the New York Museum of Natural History by 'odd-looking' FBI agent Pendergast, who pushes her to investigate before the site is covered by new construction. They examine a charnel house full of bodies, each resting in a niche of a basement tunnel. Sewed into the lining of a young woman's dress, Nora finds a note written in the victim's own blood with her name, Mary Greene, and address. Nora's sympathy is engaged.

Nora and Bill were about to move in together, but clash after he publishes 'off the record' details she has given him of the find. She and Pendergast research the cabinet of curiosities in the spooky maze of the Museum's Central Archives, which Nora considers claustrophobic enough 'to give the Minotaur a nervous breakdown.' Hidden in an elephant's-foot box they find disturbing letters about the abominable experiments of an amateur scientist named Leng, who cut into living victims. Pendergast's urgency puzzles Nora. Horrific though it is, this is surely a very cold case, which can only be of historical interest.

Then come copycat killings. The murderer is quickly labelled the Surgeon by the press for the precision of his dissection of victims. A sinister 'man in black, with a cane, wearing a derby hat' begins to go after the investigators one by one, and the race is on to uncover the truth before he gets to them with his scalpel. Archival research and another excavation lead to a house haunted by old ghosts with connections to Pendergast, and to extreme peril. Along with the identity of the Surgeon comes a moral dilemma and the wrong answer could destroy the world.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is gruesome and gripping, with fast action and a thoroughly modern heroine. Nora is smart, athletic and confident - you'll never find her tied to the railroad tracks, but rather rescuing poor Bill from similar situations. Though I don't seek out horror thrillers, this one was compelling, and I especially enjoyed the depth of information on historical 'cabinets of curiosities'. If you enjoy the grisly genre, then tunnel on in for a read that will make your blood run cold.

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