Tag Archives: cults

About that Mormon candidate on his way to the White House (no, not that one)

A review of The Mormon Candidate, by Avraham Azrieli

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Somebody had to do it, and Avraham Azrieli couldn’t resist. An author of several previous novels of intrigue and suspense, Azrieli decided to write a thriller in 2012 about — you guessed it! — a Mormon candidate for President of the U.S. One who, by the way, had a long and successful career in business as the head of an investment banking firm and served as governor of a state beginning with the letter M (Maryland, of course; what did you think?).

Naturally, this being a thriller, something awful happens to set the plot in motion: an ex-Marine loses control of his motorcycle on a treacherous mountain path above Camp David and is tossed to his death on the rocks below. Conveniently, Azrieli’s protagonist, a freelance journalist named Ben Teller, witnesses the tragedy, and he alone seems to know that the veteran’s death was no accident. Teller’s search for the killer — a mysterious white-clad biker on a white Ducati, whom everyone calls a “ghost” — soon leads him into conflict with the Mormon Church and (you guessed it again) the Mormon candidate himself, Joe Morgan.

Azrieli’s writing style is workmanlike though unexciting. Unfortunately, his skill at plotting isn’t even up to that modest level: the incident on which the plot turns — an incident that threatens Joe Morgan’s candidacy — is hard to take seriously because it seems so trivial, and the climactic plot twist that’s supposed to surprise the reader is obvious less than halfway through the book. As a thriller, then, The Mormon Candidate is not up to snuff.

However, it seems that Azrieli is far less concerned about the integrity of his fiction than he is about the accuracy of his research and reporting. That’s what makes The Mormon Candidate worth reading. For a reader (in this case, myself) who knows next to nothing about the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and its beliefs, the book is a (pardon the pun) revelation. I always wondered what went on inside those gleaming white temples! I think I have a fair idea now.

Through much of the book, Azrieli appears to be building up to a broad denunciation of the LDS church. For example, Ben Teller is finding it difficult to understand why people make such a fuss about Mormonism. From his perspective, that of a non-observant Jew, one religion is about the same as any other. An ex-Mormon tries to explain: “‘Look around you! Mormons control huge corporations, banks, the media, even Congress.'”

“‘That’s the same ugly stuff bigots say about Jews,’ Teller says.

“‘Jews are nothing compared to us. Jews have no central authority, no hierarchical structure, no single strategy they must follow. Jews are individual entrepreneurs. Jews go after personal goals, their own ideas and opinions. Latter-Day Saints can’t do that. We’re told to obey our bishop. The Mormon Church is like an army with a clear chain of command and an army of loyal soldiers.'”

Despite the build-up, however, The Mormon Candidate presents a surprisingly well-balanced view of a minority religion that has assumed far greater importance — politically, economically, and socially — than its limited numbers would suggest.

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Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers

Cults, neo-Nazis, gorgeous young women, and a detective who can never forget

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A review of Disciple of the Dog, by R. Scott Bakker

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If Philip Marlowe were to roam the back streets of today’s cities, he might bear at least a slight resemblance to Disciple Manning, the protagonist of R. Scott Bakker’s mystery novel, Disciple of the Dog. They’re both tough-talking tough guys with a special affinity for the dark recesses of society. Manning is a troubled ex-soldier — he fought in Iraq in the first Gulf War — with a ceaseless hunger for pot and sex. He is, of course, fiendishly handsome, but he still manages to alienate women with his crude and usually unwelcome honesty.

However, Manning’s most notable distinguishing feature is his memory, which sets him apart from Philip Marlowe and, apparently, the rest of the human race as well. It’s been the subject of university lab tests for many years: he cannot forget ANYTHING. Now, this is not your run-of-the-mill eidetic memory, which is fundamentally visual. In fact, his memory of the written word doesn’t seem to be the equal of his memory of the conversations and confrontations he’s had in the course of three decades of a topsy-turvy life. He remembers everything ever said to him by anybody. Everything. Everybody. And not just the words, but the expressions, the body language, the intonation, and the context, including everyone else in the picture.

Disciple Manning is not a happy man. In fact, from time to time he despairs of humanity, having what he believes to be a far more accurate picture of human behavior than just about anyone else, and as a result has slit his wrists on several occasions. Somehow, though, he manages to pull through.

In Disciple of the Dog, Manning is hired by the wealthy parents of a 21-year-old woman who has disappeared from the cult headquarters where she’s been living for two years. The scene is a small town in rural Pennsylvania, a former industrial center now shrunk to a fraction of its previous size. In the course of investigating the cult, a small operation led by a former UC Berkeley professor of . . . guess what? cults . . . Manning encounters another unusual organization that has set down roots in the same town. It’s a neo-Nazi “church” led by a clique of ex-cons from the Aryan Brotherhood, and it appears to own the town. Manning rockets between believing that first one, then the other of these evil-seeming organizations is responsible for the young woman’s disappearance and, he firmly believes, her death.

Bakker’s writing style is lively, to say the least. The tale is told in Manning’s interior voice, which is rich with imagery, profane, and endlessly engaging. The story is intricately plotted, though that’s difficult for the reader to see until Manning reveals key points in retrospect as he sorts through his memories. The book is full of surprises. It’s a lot of fun.

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Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers