Douglas Preston
& Lincoln Child,
The Cabinet of Curiosities
(Time Warner, 2002)

If you are like me, then there is nothing like a good audiobook to help you enjoy your daily commute to and from work. Instead of gritting my teeth at how much time I spend behind the wheel, I actually look forward to "story time." Of course, it helps when the audiobook is actually gripping, full of intrigue and well read. Such is the case with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's mystery thriller, The Cabinet of Curiosities.

Main character Nora Kelly is a museum archaeologist whose life takes an interesting turn when FBI Special Agent Pendergast shows up one day to get her help investigating a grisly 130-year-old murder scene at the construction site of a modern apartment building in lower Manhattan. It appears that 36 young victims were deliberately butchered and dismembered before their remains were stored in this old basement. In what could easily be the investigation of the worst serial killings in New York City's history, Kelly and Pendergast embark on a thrilling adventure to determine who the killer might have been.

It turns out that the former structure happened to be the site of an old "cabinet of curiosity." Before museums, educated men of science would often display their "discoveries" (both legitimate and faked) from around the world. For a few pennies, the general public could view the treasures and oddities. (While this might not be entirely accurate, in my mind, I picture something akin to a modern-day Ripley's Believe It or Not, but perhaps not on quite so grand a scale.)

Further investigation by Pendergast and Kelly links the killings to a strange doctor who, it turns out, performed medical experiments on the living. And just when you think the tale is really getting interesting, the killings start again, more than a century later. Is this mysterious doctor still around? Are these new murders simply the work of a copy-cat killer? What type of experiments would be done on live human beings that would lead to their death and dismemberment? How could someone get away with so many murders without getting caught? It was well worth listening to The Cabinet of Curiosities to find out.

This story is told by Rene Auberjonois. (You might recognize him from the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Benson.) Rene has a very distinct voice and switches between the multitude of characters with relative ease. His best voice is that of Pendergast. Even before it was revealed, I was easily able to guess that Pendergast was from the Louisiana area. This character has a charm and elegance about him that characterizes the slow and deliberate speech pattern of the old aristocratic land owners from the South. Nora, on the other hand, comes across as a practical, structured scientist who does not care much to have her cheese moved, so to speak. But you find out just how adaptable she is when she has to be. The remaining characters are also brought to life with all their individuality intact thanks to Rene's ability to change his voice just as Odo could change his body on Deep Space 9.

Co-authors Preston and Child have been collaborating for years. You might be familiar with some of their best-selling novels including The Relic or Riptide. Preston regularly contributes to the New Yorker. Formerly, he worked at the American Museum of Natural History as well as at Princeton University teaching English. Child's background includes time as a book editor as well as a systems analyst. Child created their website, which has excerpts from The Cabinet of Curiosities if you are interested enough to check it out before you purchase it.

I have listened to a lot of audiobooks. It is, perhaps true, that I am more forgiving with an audiobook than I am with its printed counterpart. A good reader has a way of bringing the book more to life. In other words, a good reading of a story adds a new dimension that is missing when the tale is read in silence. Rene Auberjonois is one of the better readers I believe I have listened to. It helps that The Cabinet of Curiosities was a well thought-out idea. I found the whole bundle rather entertaining and I would like to think that you would, too.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 26 October 2002

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