As an aside, I was told to read a stand-alone title, Thunderhead, also by Preston & Child, before I embark on The Cabinet of Curiosities. This is good advice as a new key character in this third volume, Nora Kelly, an archaeologist undergoing a tenure with the Museum of Natural History in New York, was the main protagonist in that novel with most of her character development taking place there. Without having read Thunderhead, which is also a pretty good book, one would not be able to fully appreciate her background and expertise, as well as her connection to Bill Smithback, the journalist.
Now back to the story at hand, which spanned an impressive page count of over 600, the biggest Pendergast book I've read so far. The story started with a shocking discovery of three dozen skeletal remains in an underground tunnel beneath a construction site. The body of evidence pointed to possible serial killings that occurred well over a hundred years ago. But what was it about this terrible crime from the late 19th century that had caught Agent Pendergast's unwavering interest and investment? And were the recent murders of chillingly similar methods the result of a copycat killer, or something even more sinister? The story that unfolded henceforth was utterly absorbing and even downright creepy sometimes.
As with the first two books, we have a handful of character POVs which include a science expert from the Museum (archaeology over biology this time), a journalist and a police officer. I was initially resigned to the fact that we are going to remain fairly detached from Pendergast. Much to my delight, Cabinet of Curiosities provided not just more chapters in Pendergast's head, but more revelations about his heritage. Without giving anything away, I must say that this man is, without a doubt, fascinating and unorthodox.
For a thriller of this size, pacing needs to be pretty on point to keep the reader engaged. In this respect, I found the novel to be practically unputdownable. With a vivid prose that described late 19th century New York with a haunting atmosphere and the bizarreness of the cabinet of curiosities of old, the narrative lends itself to being spine-chilling at all the right times. The authors are also adept at delivering a suspenseful climax, in spite of the predictability of the outcome. Like I've mentioned in my earlier review, we all know Pendergast will survive as this is a long-running series named after the eccentric main protagonist. Even then, I cannot shake off the sense of frisson and anxiety as the final, climactic chapters were unravelled.
The only issue I have with this novel is once again the idiot-police-captain trope. It is getting a bit old, in my opinion. Having these chapters of self-glorifying idiocy inserted between the more riveting account of Pendergast's plotline was quite annoying. I suppose it can be viewed to be a sort of comic relief to the grim proceedings, but I was mildly put-off instead of humoured.
All that said, The Cabinet of Curiosities is well-written, well-researched and certainly lived up to the genre's purpose of providing thrills and chills.