When I was a university student I was perpetually broke and so was willing to do almost anything for a few bucks or a hot meal. This included acting as a guinea pig for studies being carried out by the campus’ psychology and medical faculties and taking part in the introductory seminars held by the various cult-like groups that always proliferate where young and possibly vulnerable people are. I have many (many) faults but being suggestible and wanting to be part of the in-crowd are neither of them, so I was never in much danger of being sucked into their clutches. I did however develop a fascination with religious cults and how they tick that has stayed with me to this day. Most of the books I have read on this theme are either non-fiction or not in the crime genre but I have found a couple over the years. As always I’d be pleased to hear any recommendations you have for good books on this theme.
Jupiter’s Bones (1998) is Faye Kellerman‘s 11th Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus book and features an investigation into the death in southern California of Dr Emil Ganz, otherwise known as Father Jupiter, leader of a doomsday cult with a belief system based on a curious mixture of maths and mysticism. Although I grew a bit tired of this series some years ago I always liked the way it tackled religious themes in general, neither preaching nor condemning, and this one is no exception. There is. of course, a standard police procedural (with the policeman’s wife pitching in where appropriate) but also a not unsympathetic look at the cult and what brought its members together.
Laurie R King‘s standalone novel A Darker Place (1999) is a terrific story in which Anne Waverly, who is a former cult member, university professor and covert FBI agent, goes undercover in a dangerous cult in an effort to save its members. Having survived her own cult experience but losing a husband and daughter in the process Anne is a tortured soul with self-destructive tendencies and a complicated personality. One of the best things about the book is that it depicts the cult leaders not as rabid psychopaths or outright charlatans but as highly functional ‘normal’ people who believe their version of the truth. this is a far more realistic (if scarier) prospect that the madmen (and women) of TV cults who most people would run a country mile from.
Kerry Greenwood‘s Heavenly Pleasures (2008) is the second of her Corinna Chapman series set in present-day Melbourne. As the book opens one of Corinna’s neighbouring shop-owners is experiencing poisoning of their produce (delicious hand made chocolates) and at the same time Corinna’s recently acquired boyfriend Daniel has started to investigate a mysterious cult that is preying on the young and vulnerable people who frequent the soup kitchen that Daniel helps out at. A much lighter look at religious cults than the other two books mentioned here.
So, do you know any crime fiction featuring a religious cult that I should check out? All recommendations gratefully accepted (with the exception of Meg Gardiner’s China Lake which I have read and did not enjoy nearly as much as Stephen King did).
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Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week. Do join in the fun by reading the posts and/or contributing one of your own. You don’t have to write every week.