If you like your intrigue brewed hot and your skulls well duggered (is that a verb?), then place your order for T.M. Doran’s latest work, The Lucifer Ego. This colorful novel is a sequel to Doran’s debut novel, Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), and is as rich and fast-paced as anything he’s written so far, including his remarkable Iota.
The story picks up in the current day, when protagonist F. Lyle Stuart (the “F” is for Frodo), a professor of archaeology, is called by his uncle to investigate a theft. The uncle, as it happens, is the abbot of a monastery, the very monastery that is the setting for the beginning and end of Toward the Gleam. The stolen item is the manuscript left in the custody of the monks by author “John Hill” forty five years earlier – the manuscript purported by some to be the basis for the most renowned and well-loved fantasy tale to come out of the twentieth century. The manuscript is of unspeakable antiquity, and has been taken by parties unknown, with the theft not discovered until months after the fact. The abbot uncle wishes Lyle to undertake the recovery, if possible, of the treasured artifact.
This task Lyle is unwilling to undertake, partly out of skepticism about the veracity of the claims about the manuscript as well as (one suspects) a desire to distance himself from the story in question (there’s a reason goes by his middle name.) But undertake it he does, however reluctantly, with the help of his brother Sam (you guessed it - “Samwise”) and his canny and devout girlfriend Beatrice. Both of these supporting characters have depths of experience beyond Lyle’s ken, and both serve him well as the tale unfolds. As Lyle reluctantly pursues the missing manuscript, he finds himself running afoul of a tangled web woven by a poisonous personality, one closely tied to the antagonist of Gleam and even more merciless.
The reader should be prepared for two things: first, this is a time-hopping tale, with the author interweaving events that happen decades apart to form a compelling story. Fortunately, events that happen at the same time are grouped into chapters, which are identified by dates, so pay attention to the chapter headings. Secondly, this is a tight sequel, so if you have a copy of Toward the Gleam, you might want to re-read or at least skim it while waiting delivery of Lucifer Ego. Many of the scenes in Ego directly allude to events in Gleam, and having those fresh in your mind will make the story more enjoyable.
Doran’s style might seem abrupt and choppy, but it indicates roots in the detective writers of the classic era such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The fast-moving, staccato dialog keeps the reader on his toes as it propels the story along. It’s quite suitable for the tension that slowly builds as the reader realizes that Lyle and his companions find themselves ensnared in schemes that reach decades back, and the target of a cunning mastermind who has spent his life polishing the art of manipulating people, even to the point of murder.
If you enjoyed Toward the Gleam, you’ll certainly appreciate The Lucifer Ego. Doran has developed as a writer and teller of tales, and this one won’t disappoint. I anticipate his next work eagerly.