Literature / The Relic

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Jurassic Park meets Alien set in the Museum of Natural History

The Relic (or Relic) is a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child first published in 1995 and adapted into a movie staring Tom Sizemore in 1997.

If you're looking for the film, go here.

A string of gruesome murders plagues the New York Museum of Natural History in the days leading up to a massive gala to open a new exhibit. The strange mutilations of the bodies suggests the killer may not even be human. But with so much at stake, the museum officials decide to push through the opening despite the dangers. Has a followup called Reliquary and is the first in the series of novels referred to as The Agent Pendergast Series.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The storm drains under the museum, which are so large that homeless people have taken to living in them, which gets them killed by Mbwun.
  • Animated Adaptation: In-Universe example: The end mentions a Saturday morning cartoon based on the events of the novel. Given how horrific those events were, it's not surprising that the show was shortly cancelled afterwards, due to low ratings.
  • After Action, Villain Analysis: After the monster is finally killed.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Whittlesey's expedition journal.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: The Museum's biggest donors will be at the grand opening of the Superstition Exhibition, as will the Mayor and other important people. Let's not make any unnecessary fuss about all of these inhumanly savage murders...it would look bad.
  • Boom, Headshot/Eye Scream: Pendergast slays the Mbwun by nailing it through the eye with his revolver.
  • Brain Food: The Mbwun. Human brains aren't its first choice, though, it prefers to eat the plants from the Amazon used as packing material in some specimen crates (which have much higher concentrations of the hormones and such it needs). The events of the novel happen because the crates are moved to a more secure area of the basement after a curator notices they've been broken into, forcing it to search for alternatives (read: brains).
  • Breakout Character: The main character in Relic and its sequel Reliquary was anthropology post-grad Margo Green, with FBI Agent Pendergast being a supporting character alongside Lt. D'Agosta. Pendergast got his own unofficial series (see Agent Pendergast), and Margo and D'Agosta show up several times.
  • Cassandra Truth: The idea that the killings may be caused by some inhuman creature is present early on, but most investigators are convinced its probably some deranged serial killer or less likely, an escaped animal. Even as evidence mounts at the killer being unnatural, such as how the blows on the victims could only have been caused by a huge three-clawed slashing utensil (a weapon which Dr. Frock tells the investigators does not exist) swung with the strength of at least two men, only near the end of the novel do they begin to believe a monster really is killing people, and even then Coffey finds the idea incredibly hard to believe.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Plenty: Moriarty's sundial watch, Margo's handbag, the broken AC unit in the Computer Room.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Dr. Frock is a scientist who creates a hypothesis where occasionally every sixty to seventy million years, evolution creates a grotesque, short-lived superpredator form as a result of a factor in its environment, an idea that others ridicule for lack of physical evidence. By incredible chance, the museum he works as is unknowingly the hunting ground of the sole living example of his theory, a creature that normally lives in South America to boot.
  • Cool Guns: FBI agent Pendergast carries a very non-standard-issue .45 caliber Colt Anaconda revolver.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The main antagonist of the book is Mbwun, a man-eating reptilian monster although it was formerly human. This is a stark contrast to all future books in the Pendergast series, where the antagonists sometimes have unnatural abilities, but are nonetheless still always human criminals or villains.
  • Evil Laugh: Kawakita does one after his Face–Heel Turn.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Kawakita at the very end, as part of the Sequel Hook.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation Cuthbert goes insane from being trapped with the monster.
  • Here We Go Again: The ending of the novel reveals Kawakita has isolated the addictive substance in the grass the monster ate and is selling it as a street drug.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Smithback almost loses it in the subbasement, but D'Agosta snaps him out of it, reminding him that he's the only one he can rely on to get everyone out safely.
  • Horror Hunger: For human hypothalamus.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Mbwun, first shown as a statue, has a reptillian/dinosaurid bottom (tail, legs), and a more gorilla-like torso and head.
  • Immune to Bullets: Mbwun. At one point Pendergast shoots it in the head and the bullet merely ricochets off its skull "like a spitball."
  • Indy Hat Roll: Panicked party guests try to flee the museum as the security doors are activated. Some don't make it and are caught and crushed by the steel doors. Seeing as what the rest were trapped with, they were probably the lucky ones.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, as the first museum victims are two young boys who wander off in a closed area... who had their brains eaten. The movie turns and plays it straight though, changing the boys to the discoverers of the body and the victim becomes the old black security guard.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Bill Smithback.
  • It Can Think: Mbwun is able to recognize traps, hide bodies, and do what it can to stay out of sight from humans. While checking out its lair, someone stumbles across a pendant, which no regular animal would have kept. Justified by the fact that it used to be human itself.
  • Jerkass: Rickman, Cuthbert, and Wright seem to be a trifecta of jerkassitiude. They get what's coming to them when their dismissal of D'Agosta's protection and Pendergast's plan to get them to safety gets Rickman and Wright killed and Cuthbert ends up in an asylum.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: When the FBI agent Pendergast arrives, the NYPD do not take to him at first.
  • Killed Offscreen: Several, but most significantly the Mbwun.
  • LEGO Genetics: See Viral Transformation.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Mbwun is capable of disemboweling a man in one swipe, has a hide thick enough to deflect bullets, and can reach speeds of over thirty miles an hour.
  • Lockdown: The damaged security system effectively locks everyone in the museum with the monster.
  • Mainlining the Monster: At the end, the monster-creating reovirus is used by one of the survivors to concoct a new street drug, Glaze. It turns out to have some nasty side effects in the sequel, and its derivatives are even worse.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Mbwun is part primate (more specifically, human), and part reptile (heavily implied to be dinosaur).
  • Never Found the Body: All that was ever found of Montague was a pool of blood. That is until D'Agosta and the others escaping through the subbasement find the Mbwun's lair.
  • Never My Fault: Agent Coffey refuses to believe any of the things that go horribly wrong at the museum gala at the climax are the result of his wrongdoing, instead pinning the blame on everyone else, mostly Pendergast.
  • Non-Action Guy: Bill Smithback, who is described as middle-aged, slightly balding and a Big Eater, certainly not a badass of any kind.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: At first, the Mbwun only kills the bare minimum it needs to survive, but this is averted near the end, where the characters speculate the Mbwun is sated from feeding, but continues to hunt because it is filled with rage from being shot.
  • Red Herring: Frock speculates that the monster's most vulnerable points are its lower legs, but when they try it on the Mbwun, they don't have enough bullets to do sufficient damage to the creature, and they kill the Mbwun with a shot through the eye instead.
  • Red Shirt Army: The SWAT team Coffey sends in to look for survivors are all massacred by the beast.
  • Science Hero: Margo Green, nerdy grad student and Brainy Brunette.
  • Secret Government Warehouse: At the end of the book, some government officials in an unmarked van come and take the creature's body, implying this is where it's going to end up.
  • Send in the Search Team: The SWAT team sent into the museum to rescue those trapped and kill the Mbwun.
  • Sequel Hook: The second epilogue reveals Kawakita, on leave of absence from the museum, has successfully begun farming the plant that contains the Mbwun reovirus, using samples from Margo's purse. He plans to maintain his own carefully controlled supply and is funding himself by selling the stuff as a drug on the street, as the plant also has a powerful narcotic effect.
  • Shown Their Work: As they're known for doing, the authors did a lot of research on anthropology and biology for the novel and scientific procedures are explained in detail.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Moriarty decides to head out to the museum hall alone at night to cheer himself up, even though there's been a death there every night there and because of this the staff has made it perfectly clear nobody should be there after dark. It's later revealed that he was in fact another victim of the Mbwun.
  • Tragic Monster: Mbwun, once its full origin is revealed. The monster was the long-missing Whittlesey, transformed into Mbwun by the Kothoga tribe's special plant. Trailing the expedition's crates back home to New York, he was desperate to get at the plant fibers whose hormones he needed to survive (the species was driven extinct and the only remaining specimens in the museum crates), and only resorted to killing humans once these were out of reach. In his lair, he keeps several mementos of his human form and even hangs up the corpses of his victims, rather than strewing them about like the animals he's killed, suggesting perhaps a sort of respect. Margo even remarks that she saw a 'deep sadness' in its eyes before it died
  • Trapped with Monster Plot: The last third of the novel has the characters and numerous guests stuck in the museum with the Mbwun, after the security system malfunctions and steel shutters close off all exits.
  • The Unpronounceable: Go ahead, try to say "Mbwun" without adding a vowel in there somewhere.
  • Viral Transformation: The reovirus creates monsters out of anything that ingests it by inserting saurian and reptilian DNA into host cells; but the victim needs a steady supply of specialized hormones to retain its new form, the victim-turned-monster; in order to acquire these hormones, the victim must go right to the richest source available and eat the hypothalamus of its victims or go mad from the pain of being unable to sustain its new form. Notably, it is completely possible to engineer the reovirus to become a simply watered down version by using animals that aren't dinosaurs and angry killing machines (in Kawakita's case, rabbits) and diluting the reovirus's existing genes with their genes. Kawakita makes a tidy profit in the end by keeping a sample of the reovirus and being a drug dealer known for pushing "Glaze", a drug with no ill effects..
  • Vomiting Cop: D'Agosta scolds himself for losing it at the second murder scene.
  • Was Once a Man: The Mbwun.
  • What an Idiot: In-universe. Agent Coffey intentionally causes a bottle neck when he leaves only one door out of the Hall of Heavens open and then refuses to let D'Agosta order a sweep of the exhibit because it's been "sealed" for dramatic reveal. His actions directly lead to the discovery of a body in the exhibit by a packed crowd of people, which then panic and stampede out the bottleneck, killing at least a dozen people in the panic.
    • It gets worse as the crisis escalates. Agent Coffey ignores all warnings from the (surviving) police officers about the Mbwun. Every single request for backup places a strong emphasis on high powered weapons being required; Coffey brushes them off. This directly leads to the SWAT team being wiped out, as they aren't expecting the Mbwun at all. He's eventually relieved from his duty, but by then it's already too late for this to matter.

Alternative Title(s): Relic

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