Fiction Reviews


The Cabinet of Dr. Leng

(2023) Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Head of Zeus, £15.99, trdpbk, 403pp, ISBN 978-1-801-10422-7

 

FBI Special Agent A. X. L. Pendergast always wants to protect his protégée Constance Greene from harm. But, against all odds, Constance has found a way to travel back in time. Heading to New York City in the late 1800s, Constance returns to the century of her birth to embark on a dangerous quest: stopping the era's most infamous serial killer, Dr. Enoch Leng, from bringing his nefarious plans to fruition.

If Constance can stop Dr. Leng, she can finally prevent the events that led to the shocking deaths of her sister and brother... but can she survive herself, when up against one of the cleverest and most evil men of his age?

Meanwhile, in present-day New York, Agent Aloysius Pendergast is desperate to reunite with Constance before she gets stuck in the past forever... but can he find a way to reach her before it's too late?

Blimey, time travel, and would-be sisterly revenge from a sister who hardly ages thanks to being experimented on by the evil doctor himself almost a hundred and fifty years earlier, could a plot be even more out there? Well, it is thanks to this latest outing Ė the 21st - for Agent Pendergast from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Given the plot and the title, it all sounds very Fu Manchu (even if Dr. Lengís first name is Enoch), or like a Doctor Who tale from the Tom Baker days.

Preston and Child are old pros, apart from the 21 books (so far) in this series, they have collaborated on 13 other novels, and some short stories. Agent Pendergast first appeared in their novel Relic, way back in 1995, which was followed fairly swiftly by Reliquary in 1997, although there was a fifteen year gap before book three, The Cabinet of Curiosities, appeared in 2002, and there has been a book a year since then, with the exception of 2017 and 2019 when no new titles appeared, probably because two were published in 2018, and there was a gap in 2022, between the last title Bloodless and this new novel. Iím not going to suggest you go back to the beginning of the series if you havenít encountered Pendergast before, as twenty one books are a lot to chew through to reach this point, but Bloodless might be a good place to start as it is the first book of a trilogy of which this is the second book, and introduces the time travel malarkey that continues here, and it also shares an annoying habit of introducing plot strands that are never fully developed. Having said that Bloodless can be considered the first part of a trilogy, however, the authors Ė and they should know Ė suggest that the trilogy is actually a quartet, and book one isnít Bloodless, itís actually The Cabinet of Curiosities which is over twenty years old, blimey.

In book 21 we have the main plot of Constance travelling to old New York where she sells some gems she brought with her to finance a fancy apartment and a disguise as an Eastern European aristocrat to get close enough to Dr. Leng in order to kill him for the deaths of her siblings and other young girls whose spinal fluid he has been using to extend his life, but because we are in the past, her siblings arenít dead Ė yet, so she intends rescuing them, and also her younger self. Confused, you will be, as that old time travel chestnut rears its gnarly head here: how can she go into the past and change the future which meant the circumstances changed in her future time and she didnít need to change anything? And round and round we go, except this isnít just a time machine, itís a machine that allows the person to visit an alternative reality in the past, which doesnít affect this one. Phew. Meanwhile in the now, we have Pendergast restoring a time machine to go back and help Constance; and we also have an underdeveloped plot involving Agent Armstrong Coldmoon investigating murders and the theft of Lakota artefacts and possibly a bit of artefact forgery on the side. No doubt this will be resolved in book 22 as The Cabinet of Dr. Leng is very much a two-parter, ending with the dreaded ďto be continuedĒ.

Before we reach that point we are treated to a fast-moving plot consisting of 78 chapters jam-packed with horror, the paranormal, science fiction, science fantasy, and lots of interesting historical facts (the authors do like their facts, and itís not just history, they seem to know about everything), and a whole lot of contrasting settings against a really well realised old-style New York. Thrown into this mix are some interesting characters apart from the main ones like Pendergast, Constance and Coldmoon, we have the dastardly doctor himself who is evil with a capital E Ė I mean, come on, using orphans to make a serum to prolong your life, thatís nasty. We also have some interesting lesser characters, such as cop Vincent DíAgosta, who appeared in Relic and about half of the series since then, and a quirky, greedy scientist called Ferenc who repairs the time machine, allowing Pendergast to go into the past.

In conclusion, The Cabinet of Dr. Leng is an enjoyable ripping yarn, and definitely one followers of the series will like.

Ian Hunter

 


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