Book Review: Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

Author: Christopher Dawes

Date: 2005

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton / Thunders Mouth

ISBN: 1-50625-678-8

Length: 322 pages

Quote: “[T]he man who sits up there with Johnny Rotten and the ghost of Sid Vicious in the very highest of the high chairs of punk rock infamy was, quite literally, on my doorstep.”

Probably not altogether by accident, music journalist Christopher Dawes found himself living across the street from semi-retired punker Rat Scabies. The two became friends, and one day Scabies proposed a treasure hunt in France. The real purpose of the hunt was to find out how an obscure, probably crooked, French priest had gone from poverty to extreme wealth about a hundred years ago. Some reasonable explanations are discovered but, because they find it interesting, Dawes and Scabies report at length on the little international community of people who believe the priest might have found ancient treasure—possibly the treasure of the Merovingian kings who were supposed to have possessed the Holy Grail.

References to the Indiana Jones movies, which I’ve managed to avoid seeing, are scattered thickly throughout this book. Whenever someone does something bizarre there seems to be an Indiana Jones tie-in. There are also coded texts in Latin, references to a wildly speculative historical study called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and lots of visits to the kind of obscure attractions of France—intermittent springs, natural and human-enhanced rock formations, mountain landscapes in which medieval minds traced mystic symbols—that interest me more than resorts and museums. Neither Dawes nor Scabies speaks French fluently, so there’s also the plausible detail that all the people they talk to are fellow English-speakers, that they’re never told as much about an attraction as they might have been told.

They don’t come home wealthy, but they have a book-worthy series of comic, scholarly, and sometimes dangerous adventures. And, along the way, those of us who’ve never liked punk rock get a look at a real punker. Behind the atonal music and grotesque makeup, Scabies turns out to have matured as a gentleman, a scholar, and apparently a decent husband…quite a surprise for those who’ve assumed that all the original punkers must have OD’d or committed suicide by now.

Do I believe even as much of this preposterous story as Dawes claims is true? I think, on the whole, I do…because I’ve read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and talked to people who are into that kind of thing. They’re quirky, but real, and this is the sort of thing they get up to. They’re well worth knowing for about as long as it takes to read a 322-page account of some of their adventures.

Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail is recommended to those who like adventure, comedy, and/or medieval history.

Christopher Dawes is alive and still writing, though not apparently on the Internet (his other works include some unmentionable punk-appeal titles and a book about laser welding), so this is a Fair Trade Book. As usual, sending $5 per book + $5 per package to either of the addresses in the lower left-hand corner gets a clean secondhand copy sent to you and $1 sent to Dawes or a charity of his choice. If you want four copies, send me $25 and Dawes or his charity will receive $4.

Medieval French castle from NicH at Morguefile:


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