- Frank Purcell
- Vivian Smith
- Henry Mercado
- Colonel Gann
- General Getachu
- Father Armando
A novel that took 40 years to get it right. And it was well worth the wait.
‘The Quest’ was originally written by Nelson DeMille back in 1975, around the time the story in this novel takes place, and now he has revisited this novel, doubling its length and adding more character and depth to the story. Now ‘The Quest’ stands as a hybrid of DeMille’s old style novels and his new style action novels.
I found the novel to be engaging and a spacious journey into the past, both the 1970s and into Ethiopia’s distant past which haunts the characters in this “quest for the Holy Grail” adventure.
It follows a trilogy of journalists covering the civil war between the royalists and the fascists in Ethiopia during the 70s. They stumble upon an old dying priest. Father Armando has been locked up for 40 years in a jungle prison. Armando is the last remaining witness to an expedition started by the Mussolini controlled pre-WWII Vatican that journeyed into Ethiopia to recover the Holy Grail.
And his story, as recited to these three journalists, sparks an adventure leading into the heart of Ethiopia’s 1970s civil war as they themselves begin a quest for this holy relic.
It sounds campy, and it is. But DeMille infuses humanity and (dry) humor into the adventures and the lives of his characters to help ground this story into something bigger and much more enjoyable. You may not entirely buy into the journey taken, but you’ll eagerly await the next turn of page.
The novel’s chief protagonist is Frank Purcell, a seasoned Vietnam reporter who has become a “driver” for hire in Ethiopia’s civil war. Henry Mercado, an aging AP reporter, and his young and beautiful photographer, Vivian Smith, hire Purcell to take them into this jungle war. After encountering the priest and hearing his story they then stumble into the middle of the civil war.
They enlist the help of Royalist advisor Colonel Gann and eventually encounter the psychopathic fascist general, Getachu. And after recovering from Getachu’s imprisonment they plan their return to Ethiopia to resume the quest. Getachu is this story’s antagonist extraordinaire–a truly evil man.
Frank Purcell is the same protagonist Demille has used in all of his novels. He simply changes some of the character’s story and his name. But in the end, they are all identical “heroes” who seduce, joke, and fight for what’s right, for their allies, and for the woman they love. Frank and Henry both love Vivian, and this triangle adds some humor and a little tension in the relationship between these three people.
Henry has seen a lot of war and it is through his experiences and convictions that this quest is driven the most. Vivian’s youth and hope keeps her on her holy mission. While Purcell acts the practical and sardonic (sarcastic) voice of reason. He tries, and mostly fails, to point out the foolishness of this adventure. His voice remains unheard, thankfully, because this quest is quite fun.
Part mystery, part Indiana Jones, and part history lesson, ‘The Quest’ gives the reader lots to consider about the nature of politics, religion, and loyalty. As the stakes increase and lives are lost, the adventure digs in and we are given an epic journey into what drives men and women to risk it all.
Besides Ethiopia, our protagonists get to journey to Rome, the Vatican, and the Sicilian countryside searching for clues and archives/documents to help find the secret location of grail, a black monastery located in the heart of Ethiopia’s jungle.
Dealing with revolutionaries, tales of early Christianity, Coptic Monks, princes and princesses, blood thirsty warlords, and treasure maps, ‘The Quest’ has something for everyone.
The book is long, but moves quickly. And unlike much of DeMille’s last few novels, the story is quickly paced and without too much repetition. DeMille is aging and like many novelist as they age, the edge wears off of their writing. But, perhaps as this is a re-write of a 40 year book, Demille keeps the repetition and the rambling to a minimum. The novel is concise and story driven.
It never felt like I was actually inside the African jungle. But this novel does have a definite Hollywood old-school adventure feeling to it. And with the action front and center I can easily forgive the lack of authenticity. Think ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ mixed with ‘Temple of Doom’ and you get an idea of the style of the storytelling.
And yes, as DeMille has stated, you get more sex and violence in this re-imagining of the tale. But it helps to make the novel more modern and relevant.
So if you enjoy DeMille and grand-epic storytelling with lots of humor, action, sex, and adventure give ‘The Quest’ a shot. It’s not DeMille’s best, but it holds up very well and is miles above his last John Corey novel ‘The Panther’.
- Center Street