The Seth Papers
Frank Lauria | Ballantine Books | 1979 | 168 pages
“It seems onions change color when exposed to hostile energy.”
Fleeing from the pursuit of a governmental agency that would corrupt his scientific research into the occult for use in developing military projects, psychic investigator Dr. Owen Orient goes into hiding in Morocco. However, he soon becomes embroiled in an international conspiracy to harness the supernatural powers of the Hand of Seth, an Egyptian artifact that offers a nearly unlimited pool of occult energy to those who possess it.
Broken into two distinct stylistic halves, The Seth Papers begins with Orient’s account of being recruited by Dr. Maya Rand to assist in the opening of a previously unknown tomb outside Marrakech. Duplicity and double-crosses abound after Orient discovers the mystical Hand of Seth, a mummified hand that functions as a talisman of enormous psychic energy, with bureaucrats, secret police, ambassadors, and the clergy scrambling for control. Infatuated by Maya’s alluring beauty, Orient suffers a tragedy and loses possession of the hand. He ultimately follows her trail to Rome, vowing to recover the occult artifact and settle their personal score.
Once in Rome, the story implements a jarring shift in point of view. Switching to a format of field reports from secret agent Jody Hensen to Control, Orient and his activities become the subject of her ongoing operation to extract and debrief him. Initially intending to capture the results of his psychic experiments for the government, Jody’s motivations change after becoming personally involved with Orient. As she slowly becomes aware of the growing danger posed by the Hand of Seth, and the scheme to elevate an elite occultist cabal to the highest levels of international power, she takes psychic training from Orient to develop her own latent abilities, preparing herself for the true battle to come.
Jody’s undercover work draws her into a subterranean world of drug-fueled orgies, ritual sacrifice, and right-wing military coups, while Orient prepares a psychic defense composed of pentagrams within circles drawn on the floor in chalk, glasses of saltwater for telepathic defense, and pieces of energy absorbing onions placed at the cardinal points of the compass. The arbitrary structure ultimately doesn’t advance the story in any meaningful way, and the Jody-as-Watson to Orient-as-Holmes relationship seemingly set up a potential sequel that never materialized.
It all amounts to enjoyable hokum up to a point, but instead of delivering a finale composed of astral projection and telepathic mind battles, the action disappointingly devolves into car chases and gun play.