Rating: 5 stars
The very beginning of Simon Toyne’s new novel (and series), “The Searcher,” pictures a man desperately escaping a fire in the desert. The fire was caused by a plane crash, and that lone man has no earthly idea why the plane crashed, whether he was a survivor of the crash, whether he was in any way responsible for the crash — or, in fact, who he is. He is a victim of near-total amnesia, especially in terms of his own identity.
But “The Searcher” is much more than your typical hero-amnesiac-who-am-I-mystery-adventure novel. In fact, the book poses so many mysteries that it may well require more than one very careful reading in order to even discover what the mysteries ARE, let alone solve them.
The protagonist, the man who walks out of the fire, is Solomon Creed, like Solomon the biblical wise king and like creed, as in belief. Though Solomon remembers nothing about his past, he does retain knowledge about virtually everything else in the world. He knows, too, that he is strange. He knows that he is pure white, from head to toe. And he knows he is on a mission, a mission to save a person named James Coronado.
But he finds out almost immediately that James Coronado is already deceased. How can he save a dead man? Creed soon reaches Coronado’s home town, the town named Redemption, which was founded and built by one Jack Cassidy, apparently in the late nineteenth century. Cassidy’s long and mysterious memoir details the story of how and why he built Redemption, the huge church that dominates the town, the orphanage that housed so many children — including James Coronado — and Cassidy’s own search for forgiveness and redemption. And that memoir is the bible of everyone in the town, the base of the structure of all their lives.
So “The Searcher” is the story of a mysterious man who must find out who he is and who killed James Coronado, and how that death is related to the very foundation of the town of Redemption. And if all that sounds very complex and complicated, make no mistake. It is. It’s also fascinating, brilliantly conceived and executed, and filled with the kind of profound symbolism and thematic gravitas that separate Toyne’s work from others of the genre.
Note, for example, the initials of the two important characters mentioned above in addition to Solomon Creed. Note also the importance of the church; the concept of redemption; the father-son and even “holy” ghost motif that fills the pages; the over-arching and ubiquitous presence of the unknowable, the mystical, the magical, and the religious and particularly Christian symbolism; and look for the birth date of the town’s father, the author of Redemption’s bible.
But there are more — many more — biblical references and symbols, all of which add to the unique thematic richness of the piece: the journey of the holy man through the desert of torture, where he encounters his own personal Satan, the devil who offers a deal that will bring indescribable riches and power;the ugly but complex consequences of the JC who takes that deal, in the process deifying rather than defying the false god, thereby effectively trashing the first commandment — Thou shalt have no other gods before me; the decision, then, to serve Mammon; the startling appearance in the church and in the desert of the cracked mirror which displays all too clearly for every human being who dares to see himself the frustrating internal conflict which characterizes each of us — the struggle between the opposing natures of each person’s split personality — saint versus sinner, godliness versus evil, generosity versus greed, God versus Mammon; the rending of the curtain and the walls that must occur with the sacrifice of the innocent; the fires which open and close the novel, the realization and reality that fires destroy but also cleanse, that a new existence may rise from the ashes; the kings who inhabit the novel and the descriptions of their realms — Jack “King” Cassidy’s realm of redemption and the villain Tio’s realm of hatred, of hell; the free-flowing and voluminous blood, the blood of martyrs, saints, murderers and traitors; the brilliant and touching personification of God’s justice in the form of a blind little gray ghost of a girl; and the resurrections of the sons, which happen in the most shocking ways and at the most surprising times; the Keys to the Kingdom, one of which hangs around the befuddled Solomon Creed’s neck; and the many manifestations of the mystery of our own existence.
You may certainly enjoy this novel the way you enjoy any well-written mystery/adventure. The plot itself and the aura of mystery around Solomon Creed’s identity will keep you involved from beginning to end. But then read it again and discover for yourself a whole new level of excellence, thought-provoking and profound layers of meaning. “The Searcher” is a fine piece of literature. And incidentally, the sequel hinted at in the epilogue promises more of the same — and may even provide some answers to the enigma of Simon”s identity. (JK)
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by William Morrow for review purposes.