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The Tale of Tony the Templar

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Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

Although there are no Knights Who Say "Ni" in Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail, author Christopher Dawes was clearly channeling Monty Python (along with an unlikely mix of Umberto Eco, Dan Brown and Indiana Jones) in his real-life quest aimed at "converting [my] loft and/or finding Holy Grail."

Dawes (a British music journalist when he's not on the hunt for holy relics) gets drawn into the mystery surrounding the French village of Rennes-le-Chateau and its inexplicably cash flush, hard-living abbe Berenger Sauniere, who supposedly found coded ancient parchments hidden inside a pillar in his church. Did Sauniere decode the documents and locate the Holy Grail?

As he tries to make sense of silver ghost horses and glowing blue apples, Dawes introduces us to the likes of Tony the Templar, the pony-tailed restaurateur of the Pomme Bleu; Henry Lincoln, an always barefoot scholar of Sauniere lore; and Richard Bellia, an Anglophile French photographer often found at the wheel of a cheese van. And of course there's the guy who dragged Dawes into the quest in the first place: Rat Scabies (aka Chris Millar), former drummer for the Damned, one of the seminal British punk bands of the 1970s and, as it turns out, Dawes' new neighbor.

Rat Scabies is the real star of the story. He's an infectiously enthusiastic and sometimes surprisingly erudite crackpot who tries to sell Dawes his back porch and plans to get rich off a little lap desk he's invented, designed specifically for rolling joints. He was an idol to Dawes, who traces his career in music to the first time he heard the Damned. In the course of attempting to find the sacred chalice of eternal life, unending riches and whatnot, the two become close friends.

Dawes is at his hilarious best when he's describing the antics of his fellow treasure hunters. His attempt to claim Sauniere as a sort of proto-punk priest is a bit of a stretch, and his link of the quest to his own low-burn midlife crisis also reads a little too pat. But for a comic romp through the silliness of secret esoterica, this book is a profane treasure.

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