While a string of killings shakes the Jersey Shore, a cult survivor, suffering lapses in memory, searches for his fellow absconders in this debut thriller.
Tom Wallace started his life inside a compound without knowing his parents or his last name. He and pals Luke and Calvin walk out one day in 1936, each making his own way. Years later, Tom copes with periods of memory loss, likely the result of the incessant abuse callously supervised by cult leader “Him.” Following his military discharge, Tom uses old contact information to track down his friends—and a man named Ben, another cult survivor—in New Jersey and Maine. It seems that they’re all psychologically damaged: Calvin turns out to be in an asylum for murder and Luke intermittently experiences a sort of separation, seeing himself as another entity. Beach Haven police officer Becky Carlson, meanwhile, investigates some recent murders. The victims are dissimilar in terms of race and gender but linked by the manner of death: strangulation and broken necks. As Tom reunites with Becky, his New York college girlfriend, both he and Luke worry that they’ve killed someone. Murders back in North Carolina, for example, happen during a Tom blackout, while Luke hardly remembers his fight with a man who turns up dead. At the same time, a hitchhiker, another product of Him’s torture, is unquestionably killing people and ultimately sets his sights on someone Tom knows. Despite the murder case, this novel remains character-driven. The back stories for Tom and Luke are especially fascinating, like their encounters as kids with the hustler and Tom’s namesake, Typhoon Wallace. Atrocities at the compound are made abundantly clear, with Rogers providing only a modicum of details. The hitchhiker’s identity isn’t much of a surprise, but a later scene delving into his psyche is first-rate: eerie and engrossing. It’s fitting that Rogers devotes fewer pages to Becky’s investigation, which doesn’t rival the compound’s sordid history and leads to a confrontation with a killer that’s satisfactory but not very memorable. Nevertheless, the descriptive prose generates indelible images—the compound as a “fraternity forged in hell” and the hitchhiker’s sudden fondness for someone “triggering a host of alien emotions.”
An unnerving villain and good guys who may be bad turn this murder tale into an exceptional mystery.