Death Lit: Reliquaries of the Weird

The other day Brian Leno mentioned that he’d heard good things about the novel Relic by Preston & Child — but even more specifically, he got the major tip-off from me.

Brian notes, “You told me about this book over the phone a year or so ago, so I bought it. You ain’t steered me wrong yet.”

I try to tailor the recommendation to the recommendee, figuring a devoted fan of cozy cat-mysteries isn’t the audience for, oh, my newest favorite, the noir gunslinger Jean-Patrick Manchette. Leno and I must have been discussing pulp fiction — perhaps even neo-pulp fiction — and Relic jumped to mind.

I saw the 1997 movie — not great, but okay — and somehow happened across a paperback of the 1995 novel. Why not? I had a moment free.

I found the novel much, much better than the movie and could not believe that the movie cut out the role of Pendergast, an FBI guy who for all practical purposes may as well be Sherlock Holmes. My god, the best character. I could not believe it, and I still cannot believe it — who’d buy rights to The Hound of the Baskervilles and then delete Sherlock? What genius does that?

It’s been over twenty years since I read the book and a long time since I may have caught some of the film in passing on TV, so I figured I’d better check my memory. No Pendergast listed as a character in the credits. Unbelieveable.

I got interested enough to read the next book in the series, Reliquary — even hotter, full pulp in modern guise. Some bestsellers toy around with pulp elements, such as The Firm by John Grisham. I read that one early on, and kept thinking that mysteriously lurking behind the scenes had to be Nazis. No Nazis. Grisham pulled his punch. (I skimmed another of his books later, the completely padded one where the kid witness won’t talk for three hundred pages, then he talks, and The End. What crap.)

I think about diving back into the expanding Pendergast series sometime, I can see blazing through a couple here and there much like I do with The Shadow. The books don’t need me, they’re bestsellers, and highly regarded in circles of pulp readers. I’ll get to it, if I get the chance — and I did go through the solo Preston novel about the fossil dinosaur awhile back.

Other guys I know have kept more on top of this scene, such as Tom Krabacher — longtime contributor to the pulp a.p.a. PEAPS — who renders this verdict: “The first few Pendergast novels were clever, but after Brimstone they seemed to go stale. Some of the P&C early non-series novels — Riptide, Thunderhead — were also worth reading.”

Looks as if Leno has at least a solid five or six books to plow through, if he likes Relic.

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