The Cabinet of Curiosities

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The Cabinet of Curiosities
AuthorLincoln Child,
Douglas Preston
CountryUnited States
SeriesAloysius Pendergast
GenreThriller, Science fiction
PublisherGrand Central Publishing
Publication date
June 3, 2002
Media typePrint, e-book, audiobook
Pages565 pp.
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3566.R3982 C33 2002
Preceded byReliquary 
Followed byStill Life with Crows 

The Cabinet of Curiosities is a thriller novel by American writers Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, released on June 3, 2002 by Grand Central Publishing.[1] This is the third installment in the Special Agent Pendergast series.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Dr. Nora Kelly's life as an archaeologist at New York City's American Museum of Natural History becomes complicated when Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a secretive and highly resourceful FBI Special Agent, convinces her to help him uncover the truth behind a string of brutal murders that appears to stretch back 130 years.[3]

The adventure starts out with the discovery of a long-buried tunnel at a construction site in Manhattan containing the bodies of 36 young people all with parts of their spine removed, buried in the basement. Kelly's assistance as archaeologist is needed by Pendergast. But they are soon frustrated by forces opposing their involvement: first, Roger C. Brisbane III, Museum's first Vice Director; then by Anthony Fairhaven, a wealthy entrepreneur and owner of the development property. Fairhaven is a large contributor to the museum, and to the mayor's election campaign. Finally, the mayor and the police exert every effort to stop Pendergast and Kelly's investigation.

Anthony Fairhaven, owner of the site, wishes to build his glass tower of apartments before bad publicity and archaeologists can stop him. He has the bodies quickly taken away and buried, but not before Dr. Nora Kelly and FBI Special Agent Pendegrast take a cursory look. Nora discovers a note written by Mary Greene sewn into the bodice of a discarded dress. Nora has her reservations about continuing the investigation, despite the personal connection she feels to Mary Greene through her painstakingly-written note. Nora has recently been hired by the museum, and is afraid of losing her job, especially since budget cuts and politics make it harder for her to continue her research.

In spite of efforts to thwart them, Pendergast and Kelly make some important discoveries at the construction site, especially the gruesome manner in which the victims were killed. Agent Pendergast is determined to discover the name of the murderer for his own reasons. Nora's boyfriend, William Smithback, tries to help Kelly in his way, writing a newspaper article about the investigation. Contrary to Smithback's hopes, his article does not help Nora, and she refuses to have anything further to do with him. After the article is published, a copycat killer begins a new stream of murders.

The Police Department, in spite of its desire to curtail Pendergast's activities, must appear as though it's aiding the investigation, and so supplies a liaison officer, Patrick Murphy O'Shaughnessy. To the department's chagrin, O'Shaughnessy is much too helpful and becomes a boon to Pendergast and Kelly.

The copycat murders continue, moving ever closer to the museum. A horrific murder is discovered in the museum's basement, and with each clue Pendergast uncovers, he has the sensation that someone is following his trail. Strangely, the evidence points towards the same person who committed the gruesome crimes over a century ago.

Pendergast's great-grand uncle Antoine Leng Pendergast (a.k.a. Enoch Leng) is revealed as the serial killer who stole his victim's spinal columns in an attempt to produce an elixir enabling him to prolong life. He succeeded, and survives into the late 20th century, until he himself is killed by the copycat killer, revealed to be Anthony Fairhaven, who tracked Enoch Leng to his mansion on Riverside Drive.

Pendergast arrives to rescue Nora and Smithback from Fairhaven's captivity, but takes a severe bullet wound and is disarmed by Fairhaven. Fairhaven has been searching the mansion for the formula, and is excited when Pendergast, trying to escape, finds the entrance to a secret laboratory, where he is puzzled to see a collection of toxic plants and insects, along with an esoteric collection of costumes and antique weaponry. On a whim, Fairhaven decides to use an axe from the collection, instead of Pendergast's gun, to execute Pendergast. A few moments later, when Nora rushes into the room, she sees Pendergast alive and Fairhaven on the floor, writhing in agony.

Pendergast explains that his uncle Antoine/Enoch developed his formula for life extension only as a means to an end, to give himself enough time to complete his real work: perfecting a means of committing global genocide. In Leng's mind, the best way to save humanity would be to exterminate it, so he was experimenting with a variety of deadly poisons and delivery systems. By handling the objects in the room, Fairhaven inadvertently absorbed a varied "cocktail" of these poisons, and is dying, slowly and gruesomely.

Later, at the grave of one of the murdered girls, Pendergast explains the rest of the mystery to Nora and Smithback. As a young man, Fairhaven became obsessed with his own mortality after witnessing his elder brother's premature death from progeria. He used his real estate fortune to make generous donations to biomedical research, and came across mention of Leng in some of the Museum's old records. Leng was still alive when Fairhaven tracked him down, though he was now an old man and had stopped using the formula (Pendergast reveals that Leng abandoned his project in 1954, after the Castle Bravo thermonuclear bomb was successfully test-detonated, deciding that mankind had already perfected a means of destroying itself). Leng was powerless against Fairhaven’s feverish brutality, and died under torture by Fairhaven, but never revealed his secret formula - which Pendergast found in a hiding place in Leng's laboratory.

To Smithback's shock, and Nora's approval, Pendergast destroys the formula, having already decided that it is more of a threat to humanity than a blessing. He remarks on the irony that Leng had already discovered the secret to destroying humanity, but didn't realize it: all he had to do was reveal the existence of the formula, and the world would have torn itself apart trying to possess it.

The story introduces the cabinet of curiosity (created by the killer Leng), and hints at something hidden in it, which is featured in the consecutive novels.


The character of Nora Kelly first appeared in Child and Preston's thriller novel Thunderhead (1998). Kelly was modeled on Lincoln Child's grandmother Nora Benjamin Kubie, an amateur archaeologist and writer.[4]


External links[edit]