Any fan of science/action thrillers has surely read CONTEST (by Matthew Reilly) and RELIC (by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child). Both of these stories largely take place in Manhattan: CONTEST at the Public Library and RELIC at the Museum of Natural History. I loved both of these novels, and in no small way these plots and writing styles have influenced my writing (also science/action thrillers). So, on a recent trip to NYC, I spent a day visiting these buildings, making a tangible connection to the stories that these monuments are the locus of.
The Public Library (above) is an imposing stone building situated adjacent to Bryant Park. Both facts are consistent with the plot of CONTEST. For some reason, Reilly incorporated an attached parking structure into the story, and there is no such thing in reality. Another disappointing discrepancy is that the gazebo, which figures prominently in the climax of CONTEST, is absent from Bryant Park. A pity. However, the interior of the Library is massive and covers multiple floors, and there is a basement with row upon row of stacks housing innumerable volumes (important to the plot). Unfortunately, the basement is not open to the public. I found it easy to imagine running for my life down the wide hallways and getting turned around the many meeting and reading rooms. The grand scale of the building is every bit in line with Reilly’s description.
I had just finished reading RELIC for the third time the day before visiting the Museum of Natural History (yes, the very same as featured in the “Night at the Museum” movies). The museum is across the street from Central Park—an important fact to the sequel, RELIQUARY—and close to the Hudson River. However, I found it impossible, on the hot June day of my visit, to imagine even a torrential rain causing extensive flooding of this huge stone structure as described in the novel. From the exterior, the building is imposing and covers a city block. Inside, there are multiple floors of exhibits that seem to go on endlessly. Unlike the novel, I did not find a large central room just off the main entrance where the opening gala was held the night the beast went on its rampage. And there was no Hall of Primates, although I can forgive that as exhibits are most likely changed over time. The basement was off limits, and that’s a shame since it is in the lowest levels of the building that much of the mayhem occurs in RELIC.
Although Preston and Child set the story at the New York Museum of Natural History, for some odd reason the movie (also bearing the title “Relic”) was set in Chicago. Another problem I have with the movie is that the Pendergast character, who is featured in several subsequent novels, is completely absent. Unfortunate, since he adds so much to the story—he strikes me as a delightfully entertaining individual that I’d love to meet and converse with at a cocktail party. Although the movie was successful, if you have seen the film but not read the book, I’d encourage you to download it onto your e-reader or find a used paperback version—you’ll find it more entertaining than the movie.
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