In debut author Jarrett’s novel, an ancient cult hunts for new members and victims.
The story begins in Minneapolis in 1963 with a man named Paul. After Paul’s wife, Suzanne, is murdered by cult members, he and his adopted son decide to leave the area for a clean start. As the reader learns of Suzanne’s past, it becomes clear that her death was hardly a random act. But random or not, what of Paul and the child? Fast-forward to Seattle in 1992, where the University of Seattle is examining people who have been involved in the adoption process. Jemma, who gave up a daughter for adoption when she was 16, is a subject. She also participates in something called Storytelling Therapy. Derek, a troubled young man, is involved with both the therapy and adoption study, too. And both have interacted with Peter, the charismatic leader of a spiritual group called Unconditional Love, Inc. Jemma finds the group pretty repellant, but Derek is intrigued. Is Unconditional Love, Inc. more sinister than it first appears? The narrative strikes a creative mix that combines the personal growth of characters like Jemma and Derek with the danger of a murderous cult. With so many players and connections, however, the various subplots become jumbled. Throughout, Derek has the most to gain and lose as he tries to moor himself in a hostile world. By contrast, other characters’ situations—whether they are Jemma’s love life or Paul’s quest for the truth—don’t carry the same weight. A closer look at Derek might have made for a more engaging read, though the multiple dark twists add welcome suspense. Descriptions of cult activities provide ample chills, including one character’s unnerving memories of “the men in hooded robes.” The reader may not be on pins and needles as Jemma searches for adoption records, though they are likely to want to know what happens once Derek becomes a target for the cult.
A tangled novel that ably cultivates an ominous mood.