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A secret society targets a professor for assassination when he receives a mysterious package in this debut thriller.

In August 1986 at Terrace Hills’ Eastern State University, psychology professor Jason Butler’s life becomes upended when his friend and colleague Rick Volks, chairman of the religion department, sends him a large package with a dire warning: “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! DON’T open or tell anyone. If something happens, DESTROY!!” And something does happen: When Jason visits Rick’s office, he discovers his friend dead, with a scruffy stranger kneeling over him whose attack the professor barely escapes. Reasoning that he might need the package’s information to protect himself and his family, Jason ignores the warnings and opens it. Inside are texts sacred to the Shra’kufans, an almost unknown Middle Eastern sect dedicated to assassinating anyone who exposes its secrets. Rick took the risk because the texts are a gold mine for scholarship, but he suffered the cost. Over the next 24 hours, Jason must dodge both the police, who seem to regard him as a suspect, and the fanatical Shra’kufan killer, all while learning as much as he can about the shadowy sect and putting aside worries for his family, which is unreachable. Meanwhile, Jason considers what’s brought him here, such as his unhappy childhood, his wife, personal struggles, and his experiences with tai chi and meditation. Jason may have the paradoxical key to defeating the assassin’s poison—but only by putting himself in mortal danger. In his book, Beere tells a Hitchcock=ian suspense story of an ordinary man thrust unwittingly into extraordinary circumstances. The pre-internet setting adds to the suspense since research is much more difficult and painstaking. Jason’s practice of meditation and tai chi isn’t just a character note; it also ties in perfectly with the novel’s resolution in a compelling way. Similarly, the sacred texts are plausible and important to the plot. But the tale loses much of its thriller momentum in overly dwelling on repetitious points like Jason’s feelings of inadequacy, his unsympathetic father, and the hero’s need for validation.

An intriguing mysticism-tinged tale that bogs down in the telling.

Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Cardon Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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