Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SEDUCTIVE POISON by Deborah Layton

SEDUCTIVE POISON

A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple

By Deborah Layton

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48983-8
Publisher: Anchor

A chilling account of one woman’s seven years in the Peoples Temple, culminating in the mass suicide just months after she escaped from the dystopian community of Jonestown. Layton was attracted to Jim Jones’s religious movement, as many were, for its radical teachings on interracialism and social justice. She joined in Berkeley at the tender age of 18, along with her mother (a Jew who had escaped Nazi Germany) and brother Larry. Layton quickly came to be a favorite of Jones’s. As a member of his inner circle, she saw a few things (such as his voracious sexual appetite) that made her secretly question him, though she remained faithful to his socialist vision. But in December 1977, when Layton and her mother traveled to the movement’s new headquarters in Jonestown, Guyana, they discovered appalling conditions, near-starvation, and physical abuse; Jonestown residents endured a living hell that more closely resembled an armed labor camp than a communal tropical paradise. Layton exploited Jones’s trust by fleeing to the American Embassy during a public relations trip to Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. She was granted asylum in May 1978, and within weeks, she was speaking openly in the US about her experiences in the cult—including the mass-suicide practice drills that Jones put them through. It was Layton’s reports that inspired Congressman Leo Ryan to undertake his own investigative trip to Guyana. Ryan and several press members were assassinated, and Jones then made good his plans for mass suicide. More than 900 perished. Layton’s brother is still serving a prison sentence for his role in the attack on Ryan’s party. Her mother died of cancer just days before the tragedy (though she died without pain medication, which Jones had confiscated for his own —needs—). Truly unforgettable. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour; television satellite tour)