The Albatross, an image that appears in Samuel Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” represents the salvation of the soul; the free flight of a body no longer bound by the laws or limits of the human world. In his novel Albatross: Birds of Flight author J.M. Erickson uses this literary symbol to signify the life promised to the protagonists of the story if they will only ‘stay the course,’ and ride the rough waves of outward circumstance to the safe haven in the distance.
In Coleridge’s story a literal storm, one of vengeance emanating from the spirit of the fallen Albatross, arises to threaten the lives of those responsible for killing the bird of freedom. Similarly, the leading characters of Erickson’s narrative are being pursued and punished due to the death of innocent individuals. Although not shooting an albatross with an arrow (like the sailor in Coleridge’s poem), Alexander Burns has shot and killed countless people while employed as a field operative for the Department of Defense Foreign Intelligence Agency.
However, Burns is no longer the callous cold-blooded killer who once performed the government’s dirty work without asking questions. After undergoing an experimental form of psychotherapy with Dr. David Caulfield, the former government operative has developed a conscience and a keen sense of compassion. In addition, the therapeutic process has accomplished what his former employer feared the most: Burns has recovered from his temporary amnesia and remembered highly sensitive (and strictly classified) details regarding his past missions and the logistic weaknesses within the Defense Department.
Concerned that Burns has leaked top secret data, the Department targets all those who have come into contact with him of late. In a savage bombing, a special operations unit kills Dr. Caulfield’s family, leaving the doctor blinded by the explosion. And the nurse that introduced Burns to Caulfield is also being hunted because of her association with the former agent. Previously, as a government pawn, Burns would have simply escaped to a foreign country, assumed a new identity, and blended into the scenery — spending the rest of his days at large (in hiding). But now the lives of several people he cares for are in jeopardy due to his violent past.
“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Burns wonders as he faces the possibility of killing those who are out to murder him. Clearly Burns is now somebody new; a man imbued with a profound spiritual perspective. Yet has his transformation into a compassionate human being made him vulnerable to his enemies? Or does he still possess the killer (survival) instinct necessary to beat the government at its own game, and thereby save the lives of his newfound friends? These are questions the author poses in the narrative; even as Burns and his friends execute their ingenious plan of attack against a hostile government agency.
In Albatross: Birds of Flight J.M. Erickson demonstrates a sharp understanding of both human nature and the interworking of government departments. Combining insights into criminal psychology with his knowledge of law enforcement, he has penned a realistic thriller replete with unexpected twists and cathartic turns. The story of Burn’s dramatic development — a physical-psychic journey that requires him to bear the symbolic (and slain) Albatross around his neck (until his deeds deliver him from this heavy burden) — reveals the extreme suffering and ecstatic joy a soul experiences on the road to redemption. I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates carefully crafted psychological thrillers.
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