Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Quest

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Quest by Nelson DeMille
Official FC Rating: *

Phew. Okay. 

This is about the 700th book of DeMille's I've read and I feel the same way about it that I do most all of his books: great story, loved following along, but..... can you be better, man? I rounded up to four stars, but this is more of 3.5 out of five stars. I know, I know, it's half a star but just bear with me for a minute. 

Let's start with the good. DeMille's stories are always enjoyable. They're action packed and filled with suspense. I have a lot of complaints about his novels, but I keep reading them because they're thrilling and entertaining. You pick up one of DeMille's books and then you don't want to put it down. 

There are a few other good things about DeMille. He's funny. Sarcasm may as well be another character in his books. He writes well, too. He's no Tolkien, and he doesn't use words the way Maya Angelou or Ayana Mathis can. They're poets, DeMille is... well, he's a good storyteller. He tells exciting stories, and he does it well enough. 

But, I wouldn't call him a masterful writer. 

Every book is the same. His characters are always the same. They go by different names, sure, but you know who they will be. The main character will be a smart aleck cowboy type. He'll definitely find a lady friend, who will both motivate and distract him. There will probably be another guy who is a good guy, but might have his own agenda - and he'll probably be into the main character's lady friend, and even if he's not, our main character is going to feel threatened and will start to act like a petty child. 

Because apparently, men are just overgrown teenage boys. Or animals. All of them. DeMille's central male characters are almost always the same. (I've read seven or eight of his novels now, and this holds true for all of them.) 

I'd understand if one of DeMille's characters was a macho-man, smart mouth, thinks-he-knows-best type. Hell, I'd even understand if he included this kind of character in every novel. But for this same character to be your protagonist in every single book? Come on. Our main character in The Quest is Frank Purcell. He might as well be named John Corey or Sam Hollis, because he is them. He is the same character as those in DeMille's other books. Sarcastic (not as sarcastic as John Corey, if you're a DeMille fan reading this), somewhat reckless, rebellious (or at least disobedient), and, well, perpetually horny. A fine character, but sometimes I wonder if DeMille is incapable of writing other kinds of characters or if he just thinks suspense novels necessitate this kind of character (I don't believe they do).

Speaking of the sex issue... Listen, I'm fine with sex scenes. And a well written sex scene is good even if there's no deeper meaning or plot twist attached to the sex. But in DeMille's books the alpha male cowboy, whose thoughts we're privy to, thinks often of his "meat" "wood" "sausage" etc etc and it's so frequent that it gets annoying. I don't want to hear this overgrown bro think about his "swollen meat," I want to read the story. I was very tempted to ask one of my male friends if this is how full grown men really think, but I figured that might be awkward. But my female friends and I have all agreed it's unlikely. I mean, I'm sure men think about sex often, I just doubt that most men think about it the same way. I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes think that the author just really likes his own penis and is frequently motivated by erections and that his main characters are heavily influenced by his own personality.

And the women. Oh, the female characters. They're all the same. Conventionally pretty, at least a little bit naive, skilled (but, usually, not too skilled, and definitely not more so than the main male character), and younger than the protagonist. They have some role in the stories, but mainly they're there for the protagonist to lust after, fall in love with, question the depth of that love, confirm that love, and then save from certain death. (Kate, from DeMille's John Corey novels, sometimes breaks away from this basic outline.) It's frustrating to read.

And then there is often a third main character, a man, who is somehow threatening to the main character. Usually because he's been with the woman before or because in the character's mind, everyone is after his girlfriend. 

But let's talk specifically about The Quest. Here's the description given online:
A sweeping adventure that's equal parts thriller and love story, Nelson DeMille's newest novel takes the reader from the war torn jungles of Ethiopia to the magical city of Rome. 
While the Ethiopian Civil War rages, a Catholic priest languishes in prison. Forty years have passed since he last saw daylight. His crime? Claiming to know the true location of Christ's cup from the Last Supper. Then the miraculous happens - a mortar strikes the prison and he is free!  
Old, frail, and injured, he escapes to the jungle, where he encounters two Western journalists and a beautiful freelance photographer taking refuge from the carnage. As they tend to his wounds, he relates his incredible story.  
Motivated by the sensational tale and their desire to find the location of the holiest of relics, the trio agrees to search for the Grail.  
Thus begins an impossible quest that will pit them against murderous tribes, deadly assassins, fanatical monks, and the passions of their own hearts. 
The Quest is suspenseful, romantic, and filled with heart-pounding action. Nelson DeMille is at the top of his game as he masterfully interprets one of history's greatest mysteries.
AHAHA no. The basic stuff is right - a priest escapes, relays his story, and the characters decide to go on this quest to find the Holy Grail. They're pitted against a murderous tribe once or twice. There were no assassins or menacing monks. That's all gross exaggeration. Also, it was by no means a "love story." Twisted love triangle, yes. 

The story itself was a good one. I know there were many people who read this and hated it, because they were expecting it to be more action-packed. His other novels are a bit faster paced and less research based. I actually liked that aspect of this book. The middle of the story was largely devoted to the trio - Frank Purcell and Henry Mercado, both journalists, and Vivian Smith, a photographer - delving into the stories of the Holy Grail. Doing research, perusing Rome. I liked that. I like the history. It never got too slow. 

Spoilers (sort of) ahead.

Let's talk about the love triangle real quick though. Love triangles are rarely necessary, and this was no exception. I have no clue why DeMille wrote it in, and it wasn't enjoyable just for kicks, either. Basically, Vivian is with Mercado first (a much older man), but then has sex with Purcell behind Mercado's back.. oh, except it's not behind his back. It's in front of his face, as he's tied to a pole, a prisoner of war with certain death quick approaching. The whole things adds nothing but frustration to the story. Of course, as the story progresses and the three characters need to work together to manage this quest they've been chosen to make, things get awkward. There's a lot of jealousy. And then, because DeMille's women are often there to motivate or distract men, she sleeps with her first boyfriend, Mercado (the one she previously cheated on), while she's in a relationship with Purcell. Why? Literally to make Mercado feel better. She sleeps with him to make him feel like a man again. Easily the most annoying part of the novel. I'm not going to tell how the love triangle ultimately ends, but just know it's useless and detracts from the story. 

Over all, the story is engaging. I didn't fall in love with any of the characters, and they don't possess much virtue. DeMille's characters often don't though (sometimes justice, but usually a vulgar, vengeful kind of justice, so..). Characters aside, it was a good read. I prefer a deeper story with more character development, but the plot was good and thrilling. I complain about DeMille's books a lot, and every time I read one I have to roll my eyes a bit, but he does know how to tell an exciting story. The Quest was especially good because it's filled with history and background, something his other novels sometimes lack. The ending was predictable, but that's okay. DeMille is a good enough writer that you'll find the tale gripping despite guessing the ending.  

Bottom line: Good story, crappy characters. DeMille is a successful author and it's clear why. His stories are ones you can't put down. His characters lack substance and I think his model man/woman formula is very problematic, but he's got a formula and he knows it sells books, and he runs with it. If you're looking for an entertaining story, go for it. But be prepared for some disappointment with the characters. 

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