John Cassell's HELL'S QUEST: 1971 has a feel of literary majesty, high intrigue, and history X-Rayed. Iconic graphics and photo collages on the book's cover conceptualize the panorama. Of course the diamonds spilling out of the velvet bag were what I noticed first, then the playing cards.
The opening chapter taking place in 1914 immediately surged a historic intrigue among blood-warm (and chilled) characters. Style and mood stepped off the textual stage as news releases served as ambiance for contrast between the reality, the politically demonic twists of it, and the journalistic reporting of the twisted versions.
As chapter two opened, the 1971 stage eased into focus, fading the panoramic past into the quietly personal, easily growing connection between John and Toni in their present.
The first two chapters exposes HQ has a grand, magnetic presence which takes the reader beyond and into every day life, with more power and majesty than most saga-type novels.
I was impressed with the way Cassell presented the ugly political lies, fully exposing the true, casual evil in the opening chapter. I too easily forget that people exist who live to pursue that type of perverse manipulation with casual, effortless execution, with no concept of compassion. Humans are means to ends of whims, plots, or conspiracies. The twists were perfectly accomplished, as was the way Mullaney was entwined into evolving machinations. The contrasts of news reports with sequential events was fascinating, especially in the gossip column which captured the style of that type of "journalism."
The dream sequence on the sail boat was fantastic. Cassell had said it was a dream prior to describing it, but it was so vivid and captivating, that I had forgotten his preface and began seeing it as a reality in its setting. When John woke up I was surprised, then glad to remembered it was a dream. That's good writing!
I'm speculating that this author lives in his written worlds so vividly that they come alive in the book partially because of that all consuming mind-set. When a writer is in the story that far, the words come in service to the visions; words serve rather than calling attention to themselves. I don't mind, though, when a collection of words become a literary symphony, singing to be quoted with admiration. Reading was effortless, engrossing at a good level. I wanted to say at a comfortable level, but Cassell conjures so many intense emotions, that word seemed off. Yet, enough joy and compassion was shared that even the essential pain was felt as entertainment instead of being too heavy.
I had thought I was going to (and did) get a globe trotting, travel extravaganza of a story steeped into a rich panorama of a long gone history. Yet, I could have spent a lifetime reading the intriguing interchanges between John and Mrs. Seabrook, in her warmly haunting, cool, dark mansion; then holding her hand at the side of her hospital bed.
Talk about being willingly soaked up into a book. The storm scenes were mesmerizing, developing around John's history and connections at Stubbe's grocery; the flooding journey in his delivery truck; then the scenes and "THE SCENE" at Mrs Seabrook's (who turned out to be a highly significant character in both John's family life, his future, and the historic panorama opening this saga) dining table during a high tea of high historic revelation.
I was surprised and interested by the wisdom inherent in John's contemplations about the diamonds, particularly this:
"One thing I'd always liked about myself was my ability to be happy with very little. For better or worse, my refusal to develop any kind of lust for wealth or power had given me a very precious kind of freedom, one I liked. I knew all about the frustrations of poverty...I knew nothing about the frustrations of wealth. I figured I'd let the issue ride for a day or two."
Laura Christian entered to open a new saga, capturing Cassell as he captured her, with the reader willingly in the wings. That scene no sooner faded and Best Friend Roberta showed up on Cassell's mother's doorstep, with John leaping to open the door. As I've noted repeatedly, this story continues to capture with solid emotion engaged, and curiosity creaking with carefree abandon, when it's not catapulting the reader further into Cassell's sagacious panorama.
I enjoyed observing John's personality complexity applied to women friends; it's refreshing encounter a male character who's not a womanizer, yet who relates beautifully with various types... after getting through his initial stumbling shyness (which, endearingly, he overcame in each case).
The quality of writing comes through HQ-71 so strongly, it feels like it's been written at a level of GATEWAY potency. One doesn't open the pages of John's novel ready to expend an initial effort to seat words into mind for a short period prior to book coming alive. When one opens the pages of HQ, a gateway opens automatically. This type of immediate "in" to a read is a strange, uncanny effect which I attribute to those types of authors who are in regular touch with their souls, writing from there, slipping into a visionary state of living what they're writing.
Is this novel worth the ten million in diamonds which moved through time and trial to get to the fictional hero of John W. Cassell (a take off from the reality JWC who delightfully named his hero after himself)? The fact says something worth noting, that I had to give pause to seriously consider that question after posing it, and that I'm still contemplating that this story might truly be worth more than ten million in diamonds.
Shelnutt is the author of several books published on Amazon Kindle and Amazon Shorts. her trade paperback has become a collector's item, under the title THE ROSE AND THE PYRAMID