The Keeper of Dreams is a juggler's novel: gods, men, kangaroos, tycoons, Japanese soldiers, and Martian robots (to name a few) tumble crazily through the story like a motley assortment of knives and beanbags. When Owen Bird, an amoral Australian billionaire, conspires to steal a tjurunga, or sacred stone, from an Aboriginal tribe, he sets in motion a timeless ritual of revenge. Unless the stone is recovered and the thief punished, the tribe's elders know that their people will die. They must summon the powers of a kudaitja,, or spirit-assassin, to avenge their people and bring Bird to justice. The chosen assassin is a man who knows both the ancient and modern worlds: Robert Erhard is a NASA scientist and a full-blooded Aborigine. His response to the call of the elders--first reluctant, then impassioned--leads him on a grim quest through the outback. He hunts not only the thief, but also his own memories, as his ritual burden moves him back to tribal and individual origins: |
He felt himself shifting through a blazing membrane. On one surface he was Robert Erhard, scientist, designer and guide of robotic creatures bound for other planets. On the other, he was Tjilkamata, of the Spiny Anteater Dreaming, keeper of all his people's primal stories and songs. He drifted like a slow-moving whirlwind, churning from core to rim, feeling himself cross the membrane from one identity to the other and back. He felt emptiness at his center, and into its space, he sensed another presence, the avenging spirit of Wanampi striving to take possession of him.
Peter Shann Ford has produced a novel whose antipodean appeal largely outweighs several regrettable flaws. The lesser of these lapses is Ford's tendency to allow his authentic descriptions of Aboriginal tribal life to drift into sentimental paeans of praise, whose obvious earnestness does little to dispel the uneasy feeling that these powerful people are trapped in a saccharine made-for-TV movie. More significant, however, is the novel's problematic structure: Ford leaps across time and space, juxtaposing event and character to flesh out his characters' histories. His decision was inspired perhaps by the prismatic character of Aboriginal myth and mores, in which past and present infuse one another. Unfortunately, the jarring transitions slow the plot (which is, when allowed to unfold naturally, a real juggernaut) to a funereal pace.
Despite these hiccups, The Keeper of Dreams is that rare creature: an original, often gripping, thriller. That it dares to have a message as well as a story is to its author's everlasting credit.
Source: Kelly Flynn, Amazon.com.