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Winter 2002
Volume 39, No. 2
Issue Home

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www.pomona.edu

PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

 

The Prestons Strike Again

The literary brothers, Richard Preston ’76 and Douglas Preston ’78, both have major new books in the bookstores this fall—both thrillers that mark a return to old stomping grounds—and though one is all in fun and the other is all too real, they are both likely to keep you on the edge of your seat. Here is a quick glance at what you have in store.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
Douglas Preston '78 and Lincoln Child
Warner Books, 2002 - 480 pages - $25.95
The Demon in the Freezer
Richard Preston '76
Random House, 2002 - 256 pages - $24.95

Back Among the Relics
In The Cabinet of Curiosities, Douglas Preston and his collaborator, Lincoln Child, bring together a couple of heroes from earlier books—Nora Kelly from Thunderhead and FBI agent Pendergast of Reliquary—as well as returning, at least briefly, to the setting of their very first best-seller, Relic—the huge, rambling New York Museum of Natural History.

This thrill-ride of a tale takes place in modern-day New York, yet it is very much a period piece, with a major touch of melodrama to match tone to setting. The writers use their usual painstaking research to breathe life back into 1880s New York and the freak-show-style “cabinets of curiosities” that were part of what passed for science in that day. The anachronistic setting seems particularly fitting for Pendergast, who could have stepped right out of a Sherlock Holmes tale.

One warning: Those who demand total verisimilitude may grumble. Some plot twists turn on unexplained coincidences or upon a level of genius approaching the supernatural. And there’s that playfully gothic hue to the whole story, from the silver-eyed FBI agent—whose ancient Eastern meditation enables him to picture whole chess games or lay out entire cities in his head—to the malevolent genius lurking in the shadows. But the action is so clever and fast-moving, and the characters so much fun, that the burden of suspending disbelief is never onerous, and the payoff is a cabinet of curiosities that is well worth the price of admission.

Back Into the Hotzone
Richard Preston’s best-selling Hotzone brought home with breathtaking realism the spectres of ebola and other emerging viruses that are just beginning to prey upon humanity. His new book, however, The Demon in the Freezer, combines some very old horrors of the microscopic world with the breathtaking darkness of the human heart. The result may be even more chilling.

Starting with events still vivid in all our memories, Preston takes us behind the scenes of last year’s high-profile anthrax attack, then segues neatly to his title character—the smallpox virus in its frozen sleep. As in Hotzone, he begins by letting us experience in minute detail the horrors of the disease itself, then expands the scene to his larger story—a tale that resembles a Greek tragedy, but on a species-wide scale. It combines perhaps humankind’s noblest achievement—the eradication of the scourge of smallpox from the face of the earth—with its most stunning act of hubris—the large-scale transformation of that scourge into a weapon of war.

Preston’s portraits of the men and women on the front lines of the battle against bioterrorism are, as always, engaging. His skill in bringing the reader into the hotzone with him—to experience the sights and smells and chills of working with this frozen but evolving (with a human assist) demon—is, as usual, compelling. And the book’s final scene, in which Preston reflects upon the preserved arm of a tiny smallpox victim, is likely to stay with you for a long time.

—Mark Wood