Secret of the Scribe is Douglas Misquita's second offering, after the very well received Haunted. However, unlike many authors who prefer to play it safe and come out with a sequel (to a successful book) ... Douglas has chosen to go with a completely different plot and storyline, and has drawn inspiration from Egypt instead.
Haunted was a fast paced action-thriller guaranteed to give an adrenaline rush. We traveled along with FBI Special Agent Kirk Ingram, the slightly larger than life protagonist/hero, through his trials and tribulations - his highs and lows, his success and setbacks, his smiles and tears - in his quest to destroy organized crime in all forms. Ingram was seeking redemption, and waging a personal battle against the demons of his past ... and yours truly had promptly put a face to his character - in her mind, that is. It was the face of the dashing and debonair Gregory Peck. But despite her unshakable loyalties, she was generous enough to advise other readers to consider Robert Redford or Paul Newman too :)
Then in Jan., Douglas unveiled his next – Secret of the Scribe – and from the looks of it: cover art, etc., it appeared to be quite intriguing ... and I let him know that. But when he came back saying he was quite excited about this book and that he would send me a copy for review – I was more than glad. The Pharaohs have fascinated me no end and here was my chance to read an author-signed copy of a novel set in the land of the Pharaohs!
I have done a bit of reading on the Egyptian civilization and have been intrigued by the Mitanni king Tushratta and the New Kingdom pharaoh Akhenaten (Ikhnaton).
The Sun King Akhenaten of Egypt (ruled 1352-1336 BC according to the mainstream view) was a son-in-law of Tushratta, the Mitanni king of North Syria, through queen Kiya (short for Khipa, from the Sanskrit ksipa, night)
The name Tushratta is spelled Tuisrata in the Hittite cuneiform script, which does not distinguish between "d" and "t" very well. Some have suggested that the Sanskrit original is Dasaratha, a few others that it is Tvesaratha (having splendid chariots), a name that is attested in the Rigveda. Letters exchanged between Akhenaten and Tushratta has been found in Amarna in Egypt and other evidence comes from the tombs of the period, which have been discovered in excellent condition.
The Mitanni, who worshiped Vedic gods, were an Indic kingdom that had bonds of marriage across several generations with the Egyptian 18th dynasty to which Akhenaten belonged. The Egyptians knew the Mitanni as the Naharin (N'h'ryn'), connected to the river (nahar) - most probably referring to the Euphrates. But how could an Indic kingdom be so far from India, near Egypt? A plausible scenario is that after catastrophic earthquakes dried up the Sarasvati River around 1900 BC, many groups of Indic people started moving West. This idea of westward movement of Indic people is preserved in the Vedic and Puranic texts.
But let me not digress.
Secret of the Scribe made my GK travel even further – northward. I learnt about the Book of Thoth, the Huapa, various symbols, pictographs, hieroglyphics, the Heretic's Tomb (depicting Egyptian Gods leaving gifts to ancient civilizations), cave paintings depicting contact and exchange of graces with supreme beings, Y'en Hak Se or Protector of the Gods, Setna – son of the Pharaoh Rameses, Nefrekeptah, Horus, Amen-Ra, Ptah, Ahura, Senet, Atsu, the Karnak Temple, the Great Marker, the Eye of the Protector, ancient trapping systems and of course weaponry, and much more.
In cramped corners of dimly lit caves, Dr. Ivonne Prideux unravels ancient secrets with the help of the Huapa King that baffles her, and along the twisting route of the hieroglyphics all those involved must face their own insecurities and greed.
And there is a twin involved. But who or what it is, I will not tell. And as for the mysterious cylinder, I won't play the spoiler either. If you want to know, go ahead, get hold of the book and read all you can.
Book Blurb: A cave-expedition to the remote borders of China and Tibet unearth enigmatic discs that are believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. But their discovery is quickly squashed and erased from official records.
When venture capitalist Mark Steinberg launches Linguistics, Inc. and unveils cutting-edge nanotechnology-based communication, an enthralled human race is ready to proclaim the written and spoken word a thing of the past.
But unknown to the world, Linguistics is setting the stage for total control.
Leading the scattered resistance movement, Lance Michener wants to shut down the Linguistics network before the damage is total and irreversible.
At the center of the conflict is the hunt for the mythical Book of Thoth — the Book of Wisdom of the Gods; a Book that contains the secrets of the language of all earthly species and languages yet unknown.
And as Linguistics ushers in an era of global mind control, the race is on to prevent The Book from falling into the wrong hands.
Haunted had FBI agents, terrorists and a deadly nerve agent, while Secret of the Scribe is peopled with Egyptologists, archaeologists, scientists and a technology that reads thoughts; however tribes, ancient secrets, tour guides and even aliens make their presence felt. And there is plenty of action – bloodshed, trap, betrayal, sacrifice, tenderness and what have you. One is reminded of the Indiana Jones series, Dan Brown's works and of course Gregory Peck – from Mackenna's Gold.
The cutting edge technology that Linguistics, Inc is developing (in this novel) is not really fiction. A team of California scientists (led by Philip Low, a 32-year-old neuroscientist) have developed the world's first portable brain scanner, and it may soon be able to "read a person's mind," playing a major role in facilitating medical breakthroughs. The device, created by San Diego-based NeuroVigil (of which Philip Low is the chief executive), and dubbed the iBrain, fits over a person's head and measures unique neurological patterns connected to specific thought processes.
Low says the goal is to eventually have a large enough database of these brainwaves that a computer could essentially read a person's thoughts out loud. One person who has already tried out the iBrain is famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.
"We'd like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain," said Low. This past summer, Low traveled to Cambridge, England, where he met with Hawking, who was asked to think "very hard" about completing various tasks while wearing the device.
Now, will Lance Michener and his team (Lorraine Tao, Ishaan Anurag, Ivonne Prideux, Elijah, Femi Hasina, Roleau, Albere, Lachlan, Maso Djimouti) succeed in stopping the world from being mind controlled, from becoming silent thought-reading robots with an army of nanobots inside their cranium? Well you will have to read the book to find that out.
Do not expect to skim through the book and this is no cursory read. It demands your full attention and is worth every bit of it. As one reads along, it would be best to take the help of Prof. Google and having a good look at the places, images and monuments mentioned in this book, 'coz then one can visualize it better. And believe me, mere reading is not enough; you will have to play out the scenes in your head, while your eyes do the reading: simultaneously. [Here's a link from Douglas' website: http://www.douglasmisquita.com/html/insidesos.html#inspiration; but do look up Google, that way you'll be able to appreciate the story better and it's a visual delight too.]
Suggestions: The typos could and should have been easily pruned out. And a little sharper editing would have helped. The language is vivid but a bit of colour and soul would have been welcome – given that the nature of the book may have compelled the author to choose the impersonal 'telling' route over the more interesting dialogue or conversation format – in large measure.
Douglas continues with his story within a story style that is all very good since they all get neatly tied up in the end. However, I would have wanted to know a bit more about Michener from age six to age thirty-five. How his character building happened, how he decided on his life's purpose i.e., how certain events shaped his life and thinking. The enigmatic discs sort of tantalized to deceive. Mark Steinberg and Ishaan Anurag are underdone. There is definitely scope for some more content there. And how Timothy Sable came to be the top man ... would have made for some interesting read. But thankfully Douglas steers clear of an ill timed, ill developed and thoroughly clichéd love story or an almost love story, that has sadly become de rigueur.
The book feels good to hold and the book jacket cover is quite attractive, it instantly catches attention. However I feel that some of the titles of the chapters (e.g., 'On The Run', 'Rescued', 'Betrayed', ‘Shutdown’ etc.) reveal too much and rob off the charm and suspense of the following pages. It somewhat dilutes the interest, and in a thriller that is simply not done.
My rating: 3.5/5. Informative and quite a riveting read that will appeal to all age groups and not just to thriller-loving epicureans, so even if you have several swashbucklers sitting on your 'to be read' list, don't miss this one!
Douglas is well on his way to creating an action-thriller oeuvre of his own and I look forward to reading more of his works in the future.
Details of the book: Secret of the Scribe/ Author: Douglas Misquita, Jr./ Publisher: Frog Books/ Publishing Date: Feb, 2012/ ISBN: 978-93-81836-10-1 / Pages: 332/ Price: Rs.245; US $10.
Photograph: The book jacket cover of Secret of the Scribe. Picture courtesy: link.