Social work turns out to be a cesspool of depravity and occultism in this lurid melodrama.
Amos Simmons, chief aide to the Secretary of Kentucky’s Department of Human Services, leads an outlaw lifestyle as a state social-welfare bureaucrat. He cruises around in his BMW smoking dope, beds countless women in the course of conference junkets and shakes down state employees for funds to finance his boss’s gubernatorial ambitions. His long-suffering wife, Fortuna, is the leader of The Children’s House, a private Christian foster home and rehab center for troubled youth, which may explain her preternatural patience with Amos’s womanizing and his habit of tuning her out while he smokes pot and watches porn in the living room. Her life is turned upside down when a couple of Children’s House teens are slaughtered in their dorm room, the walls smeared with Satanic graffiti and the tag â€œThe Wizard’s Wrecking Crew.” Certain evidence links Amos to the crime, but Fortuna’s suspicions would be even stronger if she were privy to Amos’s secret meetings with his DHS cronies: At one of these debauches, Amos dubs himself â€œthe Wizard,” swaps blood with his naked colleagues and toasts the Devil. At another, he invites a â€œwitch” aboard their boat for a cocaine-fueled orgy. Berger, a fund raiser for the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other Catholic charities, slips in some subtle anti-abortion soapboxing and draws a stark contrast between incompetent, corrupt public welfare agencies and effective, caring private welfare agencies. The author skillfully depicts Fortuna’s prayerful struggle to hold her marriage together, but the ritual-murder subplot is clunky and riddled with implausibilities, while the demonic overtones of Amos’s character render him laughable, rather than spooky or charismatic.
A nicely wrought study of marital disaffection marred by campy flourishes.