The Otters and the Jackal revolves around a quest to decode the meaning of Dominic's tapestry, which originally comes from Southeast Asia. Dr Kipling explains the derivation of the scenes it depicts from one of the Jataka stories, and the meanings of the postures, actions and attitudes of the animals in these scenes (two otters and a passing jackal) and of the commentary supplied by an invisible figure concealed in a tree then become clear.

But the quest on which Dominic then embarks to uncover the tapestry's source in order to establish its authenticity and - should the latter be proven - whether a regular supply of similar artefacts can help his father's antiques business commercially leads him to explore deeper levels of meaning. In Chapter 19, he discusses these with Paul during their flight to Bangkok. True or deep meaning, he avers, is all to do with function rather than truth. After being pressed by Paul, he explains that the tapestry's "true meaning would partly come from how it was compiled as well as its ostensible message."

The search for its 'true meaning' then leads Dominic to a Thai military camp on the Thai-Cambodian border and from there to a jungle workshop, where Jen - a prisoner from the Chong minority held captive by the Khmer Rouge - finally reveals the secret of the tapestry's compilation - just as a squadron of Khmer Rouge cadres arrive.
The Others and the Jackal thus decodes the tapestry in several senses. It explains the four tableaux it shows; it establishes whether it's genuine or not (and thus whether it's really what it purports to be) and it uncovers the 'real' or 'true' or 'deep' meaning behind its production. In all three ways, the novel's characters come to understand more than its surface appearance, which simply portrays various figures and motifs in the stylised manner of Southeast art. Firstly, the knowledge that it relates a Jataka tale helps them make sense of its imagery. Secondly, their discovery of the nature of the venue in which it's been manufactured helps them form a view as to its authenticity or otherwise. And thirdly, the dreadful experiences related by Jen (coupled with Dominic's rather cynical conclusions about the relationships between political power, smuggled antiques and ready cash) help them realise how and why the tapestry came to exist and then find its way to Dominic's father.

Why are novels that explore the theme of decoding so popular? The immediate answer must lie in the extraordinary publishing success of Dan Brown's novels, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, which decode the arcane symbolism associated respectively with Opus Dei and the Freemasons but more generally with the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, linking them to sinister plots and conspiracy theories.
The question then arises as to why so many people would be so intrigued by the idea of unmasking fictional cabals (interwoven with tantalising factual aspects) and why they would want to read books that set out to decipher mysterious signs and rituals associated with religious practices we glimpse but fail to grasp the full significance of in full.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we often find ourselves surrounded by images, symbols and signs we do not understand but wonder about the significance of. So, naturally, we ask ourselves why fountains in English cities are adorned with statues of imposing winged lions, why churches are bedecked with fearsome and unchristian-looking gargoyles.

In 1968, Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods was published and soon became an international bestseller. Its success is explained by its sub-title: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Drawing on a wealth of archaeological, ethnographic, artistic and technological materials, von Daniken argued that various ancient civilisations were far more advanced than had been supposed and that their sophisticated technologies had been bestowed by extraterrestrial visitors whose appearances explained references in ancient theological works (including the Old Testament) to gods and angels. He thus offered twentieth-century readers what appeared to be scientific evidence as a key to unlocking what were presented as otherwise inexplicable phenomena which confounded the conventional view that ancient civilisations were essentially backward and barbaric while modern ones were inherently advanced and progressive.

The popularity of non-fiction books offering keys to unlock religious and spiritual mysteries continued. Colin Wilson's The Occult: A History (1971) and Mysteries (1978) popularised explorations of supernatural and occult (or 'hidden') planes which interacted with our day-to-day empirical lives in ways we'd not always appreciated previously. By alerting readers to a rich tradition of magic (or - to use the spelling preferred by its most notorious twentieth-century practitioner, Aleister Crowley - magick) through which Wilson again appeared to reveal a series of keys via which age old esoterica could be demystified. In fiction the tradition of deciphering clues and solving mysteries was already well established.

We are intrigued by the possibility that statues,contain secret meanings which may contain

 Thus we enter a world of real-life mysteries, lost or hidden