Thursday, October 10, 2013

Questing For Fun

The Quest
Nelson DeMille
3 out of 5 stars.

Apparently Nelson DeMille wrote the first version of this book back in 1975, and it’s about people having an adventure while trying to find the Holy Grail. Even though I’ve been reading DeMille since the ‘80s, I’d never even heard of it. So despite his best-selling career writing thrillers about cops, spies and terrorists, I’m gonna assume that the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code really chapped DeMille’s ass, and that he decided to rewrite and rerelease this to get in on that gravy train.

Set during the mid-1970s, three reporters are in Ethiopia trying to cover the civil war. Henry Mercado is an older British gent who spent several years in a Soviet gulag and credits his survival to his finding faith in Jesus while there. Henry is accompanied by the much younger and beautiful Vivian Smith, a Swiss photojournalist, and they invited veteran American correspondent Frank Purcell along to get a first-hand look at the fighting. Purcell is wary of dangerous situations thanks to a year spent in a Cambodian prison camp, but a few too many cocktails at the hotel bar and a long look at Vivian convinced him to go along.

While spending the night in the ruins of a spa, a wounded Italian priest staggers out of the jungle with an incredible story to tell of how he has spent 40 years imprisoned after coming across a mysterious monastery in the jungle that he claims housed the Holy Grail. The priest’s info gives the three journalists a starting point to try and locate the monastery, but traveling in Ethiopia during a war is a dangerous undertaking.

If you read the official summary of this it states:

"Thus begins an impossible quest that will pit them against murderous tribes, deadly assassins, fanatical monks, and the passions of their own hearts."

That is a complete lie that is trying to market this as a rollicking adventure such as other stories about looking for the Holy Grail like Brown’s book or Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. It’s false advertising that seems to be biting the publishers in the ass based on the reviews from DeMille fans I’ve read.

While there is danger to the group, it mostly comes in the form of one crazy Marxist general, a badly maintained airplane and the Ethiopian jungle. The murderous tribes are much discussed but never seen. The fanatical monks are just a bit of stage dressing, and as for ‘deadly assassins’, I don’t know what they're talking about there.

Like a lot of DeMille’s work, there’s a lot of talk and discussion about potential dangers, but the actual moments of the heroes in jeopardy are few and far between. A long interlude in the middle of the book revolves around doing research at the Vatican where the biggest threat is the love triangle that could end the quest. There are no ninja monks shooting poison darts or albino assassins running around killing people. Mainly they eat a lot of meals and drink a lot of wine and talk about what they’re going to do.

It’s not a terrible read. I find DeMille’s stuff generally enjoyable even in ones where not a helluva lot happens at times other than his protagonist sitting around being suspicious of the motives of others. The early stuff with the priests and the journalists being caught up in the Ethiopian civil war was exciting and compelling, and the third act with the actual hunt for the Grail wasn’t bad. I also learned a lot of interesting stuff about Ethiopia that I didn’t know.

But the middle section is almost entirely dialogue about research, relationships and faith which killed a lot of momentum and went on far too long. Overall, this didn’t provide much excitement for a book marketed as a thrilling adventure about the hunt for a religious artifact. Indiana Jones made it look like a lot more fun when he did it.

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