An engrossing, complicated quest adventure, in the tradition of Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones. Five (central) characters in search of a lost mystical tome of the Kaballah, called the Sefer ha-Zaviot, alleged to contain the secret names of God and a backdoor key to Heaven.
Angel, a young runaway, is enlisted by Father Yohji Amo, a wizened Jesuit with the manner of Phillip Marlowe, to join him in a quest to steal the most valuable book in the world. He will hook-up with Pena, a mysterious older woman rumored to be the last living descendant of Genghis Khan. Their personal stories are swapped, unraveled and re-wrapped. Together they embark on a pilgrimage to an isolated monastery in Mexico. Pena dies from fever, and Angel escapes unwittingly from a mad Jesuit priest, Padre Isoceles.
We are introduced to the other characters, Coyote Blu (a smuggling soldier of fortune), Gabrial (an albino Rastafarian), and Christiana, on their prospective trips to Colorado, where they gather their special skills and knowledge, in hopes of cracking the labyrinthine underground library, secreted beneath the Papal throne, where the fabled book is said to rest. They are systematically tracked by Isoceles, who is bent on killing them before they can reach their mutual goal. Spelunking, mountain climbing, skiing, explosives, code-breaking, translating and plain old leadership, all play a part in their deadly quest for the sacred tome.
Globe-trotting from the American Southwest, Jerusalem, Indonesia and finally to Rome itself, the intrepid adventurers question their personal philosophical bents, ancient religious wisdom, and the nature of the I Ching, as each of their stories, unwrap the complicated history of the Sefer ha-Zaviot. It’s a history dark and mystical, trailing from its ancient oral Hebrew roots, to the Crusader Moors, to the Knights Templar and eventually to the modern day Vatican. A history riddled with murder, mystery and mayhem.
Steven Kotler writes with an extreme economy of verbiage. His style is reminiscent of the great pulp writers, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler. Short and sweet. To the point. However, when Mister Kotler does embrace the metaphor he does so masterfully, with the precision and broadened brushstrokes of a Renaissance master. Each character is drawn with precise instrumentation, yet left quizzical enough to keep the reader on the edge of his seat.
The narrative structure of this wonderful first-time novel is reminiscent of a film from 1998. PI, a similar premise, written and directed by Darren Aronosky, differs primarily in the vast global search found here in Kotler’s novel. Otherwise the obsessive nature of the participants is often comparable to Aronofsky’s tragic mathematical genius, whose particular mania revolves around the search for God, and a shortcut to success with the Stock Market, through his Euclidian calculations and maniacal visions. Other comparisons might also be found within Roman Polanski’s enigmatic The Ninth Gate (2000), and within Umberto Eco’s historical period piece, The Name of the Rose.
Kotler’s character Johnii Rush is particularly obsessed with finding the 65th hexagram of the I Ching. Johnii’s mania is essentially a deux ex machina, with it’s purpose to further his characterization and his search for truth. Yet Rush is linked in this way to all of the principle characters, each of whom seem bent on finding themselves and their philosophical place within an unnecessarily complicated universe.
Staying with cinematic metaphors, the Sefer ha-Zaviot is itself a “Macguffin”, Alfred Hitchcock’s coinage for a plot device not necessarily realized. The conclusion of The Angle Quickest for Flight certainly leaves one wondering whether they’ve found their respective “Macguffins”, or have been victims of a centuries old scam.
The human mind loves making connections, sometimes organizing unlike data into nicely formed packets of sanity, other times tying ribbons upon packages of mayhem. Our minds also seem to search for the convenient shortcut, the Northwest Passage, the easy way out. More often than not these packets and shortcuts lead to dead-ends, or mine fields laden with an ordinance of insanity and confusion. The human mind regularly plays tricks on its host, and often the mind seems to like this.
Perhaps the human fascination with a puzzle, our curiosity for the new and our love of vicarious thrills, comes from our collective spirit, or perhaps it comes from our inner souls. Kotler’s wonderfully enigmatic The Angle Quickest for Flight seems to suggest the latter.
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