With “write what you know” apparently ringing loudly in his ears, Brad Kelln constructed his fictional protagonist Jake Tunnel to be, just like him, a Nova Scotia-based psychologist (and is Kelln married with young kids too? Almost certainly). But probably unlike Kelln, Tunnel’s best friend at college Benicio Valori constantly globetrots on behalf of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the lookout for claimed miracles, in a very Gabriel-Byrne-in-Stigmata (1999) kind of way.
Hence when an autistic boy on a primary school tour of the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscripts Library is shown the Voynich Manuscript in a permanent glass display case [this never actually happens, but never mind] and is miraculously able to read it, Benicio is sent by the CDF’s morally-suspect-yet-self-harmingly-devout Cardinal Espinosa to check it out. Once again, all very Alfred-Molina-in-The-Da-Vinci-Code (2006), though of course this is no more than a slightly updated version of the centuries-old ‘wicked Jesuit’ trope for whom the (holy) end always justifies the (unholy) means. Oh, and the autistic kid is pretty much Simon Lynch in Mercury Rising (1998), who goes on a similarly mad road trip with Bruce Willis. La-di-da.
Rapidly, the boy is revealed to be the last of the Nephilim, a race of (what X-Files scriptwriters would term) ‘human-alien genetic hybrids’ fleetingtly mentioned in the Bible and about which Erich von Däniken has spent the majority of his life writing phantasmagorically imaginative historical nonsense. And hence the Voynich Manuscript is revealed to be the Nephilim Bible, a document so earth-shattering it would Rock The Very Foundations Of The Church If Anyone Were To Read It And Reveal Its Secrets etc.
Complicating the plot are Shemhazai and Azazel, the two cursed ‘Grigori’ aliens / angels who landed on Earth seventy generations ago and whose intergalactic miscegenatory misdeeds quite literally spawned all this trouble. Despite having awesomely glowing megatronic powers, the pair mooches around the book, languidly chasing after Benicio and the boy in an almost Rastafari laid-back stylee. And complicating the matter yet further are the CDF’s dysfunctional twin thugs Maury and Jeremy, who are also tasked with chasing after the protagonists.
Kelln’s book covers a lot of ground and tells its story briskly, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated by it in two main ways. Firstly, even though it’s written by a hard-working forensic psychologist, none of the characters presents any noticeable character depth or development: sure, they move around the board rapidly enough, but they basically remain Ship, Boot, Dog, Iron, Hat, and Car for the duration of the game. Secondly, there are so many parallels between “In Tongues of the Dead” and Kevin Smith’s thoroughly enjoyable (1999) film Dogma that it’s hard not to see Kelln’s book as a dourly humourless anagram of the latter. For example, Shemhazai and Azazel are basically Bartleby (also a Grigori) and Loki crossed with Jay and Silent Bob; Maury and Jeremy are basically the Stygian Triplets; Metatron and Bethany Sloane are basically Harold Grower and Jake Tunnel; and so on.
As you can probably tell, I’m getting a huge screenplays-circa-1999 buzz off Kelln’s book, and not in a particularly good way: ultimately, it seems like he has fallen into the old trap of writing not about what you know, but about what you have seen at the movies. Brad writes perfectly well – but given that he’s a psychologist, where did all the psychology end up? 🙁