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March 2014

Through Jails, Rails, Sails, and Trails; The Search for the Holy Grail Continues

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“She unpinned the Saint Christopher medal from the fabric over the windshield
and stuck it on his shirt. “Christopher saved a child from a river, and though
he was a big and strong man, the surprising weight of the small child almost
made him stumble and fall into the raging water, but he would not let go of the
child – and when they reached safety, the child revealed to him that he was Jesus
who carried the weight of the world.”
‘I know the feeling.’
He eased the throttle back and continued their descent.”

The quest of all quests, and no I am not talking about searching for an incapacitated friend in Las Vegas after a night of indulgence, or the prospects of losing your virginity on prom night. I am talking about the search for the Holy Grail, thee Holy Grail. From the point of planting the seed of contemplation, within five months it has grown into a tree of hope and an eternal belief in the journey. For three colleagues this search is as much about themselves and their own independent motivation than it is about the historical relic. The question is, can they find what their looking for? Or will they die before ever knowing what it was that drove them from hell and back and back to hell again?

This is a really ambitious novel which really goes without saying when you look at the fact that it took close to forty years for achieving the author’s satisfaction. Whatever true satisfaction means in the mind of an author is a mere talking point and one that is never really obtainable, kind of like the said relic. The extensive research centers on the Ethiopian war and the travels of the Holy Grail which ranged from the last supper of Jesus Christ, to his crucifixion, to Joseph of Arimathea’s collection of Christ’s blood in the chalice, and the resulting travels in the search of the Holy Grail.

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Stick with me for a second and if you get confused that’s okay because than you will understand how I felt during this section of the book. From imprisonment with Joseph of Arimathea, to Sarras Egypt, to God’s instruction to take the Grail to Britain, to magician Merlin’s premonition and King Author’s conquest in finding the Grail and the Lance of Longinus to it’s resting spot in Glastonbury. God then intervened and directed Sir Perceval and Sir Gavin of the Round Table to the Holy Land of Jerusalem, but after a war the Christian relics were spirited away landing the Grail in Alexandria, Egypt. After a few hundred years of being bandied about from church to church and priest to priest the Grail finally settled, until the fall of Christianity to Islam it then travelled across the Nile River with Cospic Monks into Axum Ethiopia to its final resting spot in the Black Monastery, close to six hundred and fifty years ago. Phew… And they say a rolling stone gathers no moss, the question remains; where is the Holy Grail?

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” ‘It doesn’t matter if we never even get into Ethiopia, or if we do, it doesn’t matter
what happens there. It matters that we try.’
‘I’ve lived my life that way, Frank.’ He reminded Purcell. ‘This will be my third
trip to Ethiopia, and I nearly got killed the first two times.’ He added, ‘As they
say, boats are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what boats are made for.’ “

I have always been amazed at the depths a journalist will travel in order to get a story or a photographer to get a picture. Staring a tortuous death (because a gunshot would be too easy and less fun) right in the eye of a ruthless despot in Ethiopia and Revolutionary Leader named Mikael Gestachu; Vivian Smith, Frank Purcell, Henry Mercado, and Colonel Edmund Gann challenge the manhood of the psychopathic leader in order to maintain a decorum suggested to them if they ever found themselves in an arrestable state or a compromising situation. After surviving imminent death or escaping long-term imprisonment they insist on going back into the mouth of the shark in order to finish what they had started. In a place where castration is as common as a sunburn and western woman are passed around like a water skin, I would have some intense reservations about going back to the belly of the beast. It goes to show the powerful pull of religious relics, money, the saviour of Christianity,fame, notoriety, the proper beatification of Father Armano and ultimately, finding God’s laid plan’s for us all.

“He understood, too, that they had not necessarily been chosen to succeed, or
even to live. But they’d been chosen to find the Holy Grail that was within them-
selves. And that was what this was all about; the Grail was a phantom and the
journey was inward, into their hearts and souls.”

At a time of certain death Henry is hanging on to his faith, and the belief that a higher power will see him through this tough time. Their is an interesting personal struggle at play, which has been done many, many, many times before, but always causes a reader to take notice and anticipate the resolution. Vivian and Henry are directed by the meta-physical elements in their search for the Holy Grail, and put their faith in the hands of the Lord in determining their endgame. Frank is at a crisis point in his life where his career is not going the way he had originally designed and with that his faith in all things is dwindling. He is not closing the door on the possibility, he is simply reluctant despite all the amazing things they experience. Henry and Frank’s pasts are very similar, but the effects of their experiences have lead them down different paths. Henry is at the point where death is knocking on the door so why not go out with a bang. Frank’s longing for adventure and his wayward spirit overshadows his cynicism which allows for a very interesting interpersonal journey.

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“Purcell had the feeling he’d stepped into Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The mysterious
dying priest, the surreal Roman ruin, the fortress city of Gondar, the good Prince
Joshua, the evil General Gestachu, Sir Edmund Gann, and the black monastery.
And the Holy Grail, of course. And now the village of the Falashas. None of this
seemed possible or real – but it was. Except the Grail.”

A running joke throughout the book was Purcell asking the people around him if he could smoke at the most inauspicious times. Sure after a great culturally-sound six course meal in Rome accompanied with a glass of Amarone. But not in a church library filled with historic cartography, or in the presence of warlords with guns drawn, or in a jungle where if found, your dead before you even know you’ve been made. A lot of times guys like this are found in Noir fiction, you know the guys I’m talking about, but with Purcell it was almost like he said it in jest or as a way to cut the tension. I thought it created a comedic relief made necessary with such heavy material.

‘ ‘There’s hell, there’s darkness, there is the sulphurous pit; burning, scalding, stench,
consumption!’ She fell forward and the black, warm mineral waters closed quietly
around her.
Mercado hunched down and touched the water. ‘That was Shakespeare, Frank,
King Lear’s description of a vagina, actually.’
‘I hope that wasn’t his pickup line.’ ”
Mercado laughed

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This was my first Nelson DeMille novel and I thought it was a good read. I can definitely understand where other readers are coming from with the whole long, dull, boring, uninspired, and tired feelings. For my initiation into the mind of DeMille, I find him to be a sound writer and that I would be interested in reading some more of his books in the future. And with the advice of other reviewers I get the impression that they would strongly urge me too.

” ‘What is it? What is happening?’ But there was no answer. They never answered him.
To them, he was more dead than the ripening bodies that lay in the courtyard. When
you ask questions for forty years and no one answers, it can only mean that you are
dead.”

 

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