(creator: Laurie R King)
|Professor Anne Waverly is the 48-year-old Professor of New Religious Movements at Duncan Point University. "She was small and her hair was going grey, and her figure, though slim, was long past the litheness of youth." She also serves as an FBI consultant on cultic behavior and, when necessary, undercover agent working inside cults, a role she had agreed to accept because, eighteen years before, her thirty-one-year-old husband and beloved seven-year-old daughter Abby had died as the result of a mass suicide pact carried out in a cult to which she herself had belonged. She can never forgive herself that her own actions may have been partly responsible for what had happened. She herself got badly shot-up in one of her subsequent FBI exploits and she still has a limp and an "eternal ache in her knee", as well as two missing front teeth, now replaced by a bridge.
When she joins a community, she takes on a new name and "Just becomes a different person. Her posture changes, her voice softens, her vocabulary shifts, her eyes go wide. It's not even an act .... She opens up and just sucks in the community, lock, stock, and Bible." As Glen McCarthy, her FBI contact, realises, "She's made her peace with death, and she doesn't really care if she comes home or not."
Her own "complicated relationship with God was personal, both spiritual and intellectual, with little room for the formal and liturgical". Religious ideas, though, are implicit throughout. The author has explained that, "The book is about Anne, about her struggles to redeem herself and to salvage something of her own history, but it is also about how far we humans will go in our quest for meaning in a world of chaos."
Laurie R King (1952- ) is a third-generation native of the San Francisco area, but since her marriage to an Anglo-Indian professor she has lived briefly in twenty countries on five continents. They have two children. They live mostly in California but also have a house in Oxford. She had been awarded a BA in Comparative Religion at the University of California and an MA from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She later received an honorary doctorate from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
She started writing in 1987 when her second child entered school, and had her first novel published in 1993, since when she has averaged a book a year. She has written a series of prizewinning novels featuring detectives Kate Martinelli of the San Francisco Police Dept and a series featuring young Mary Russell who becomes an apprentice, then partner of Sherlock Holmes, in early 20th century England, as well as a long autobiography. She also writes stand-alone novels such as A Darker Place, reviewed below. In addition she wrote a single futuristic novel under the name of Leigh Richards.
She explains that theology "can be used as a straightforward element of the story’s cultural milieu, or as a way of titillating the intellect, but it also provides an unparalleled means of giving depth to the story .... A mystery novel deals with ultimate issues, with death and pain and personal responsibility." She says that, "as a good Episcopalian, I pride myself in being comparatively religious."
A Darker Place, published in the UK as The Birth of a New Moon (1999).
As part of Anne's personality transformation into Ana Wakefield, she must first have violent sex with Glen McCarthy. "God," he murmured, sinking his fingers into her thick hair and pulling her face up to his, "the things I do for my country." As for Anne, "She had long realised that sex with Glen, a man she both liked and loathed, was her way of cutting herself off from her normal self."
As she settles into community life, Ana (as she now is) finds that "It was not, as she had feared, proving difficult to usher Anne behind her door. Anne was no more real than Ana Wakefield was, and now that she was in place, she remembered how restful it had been each of the earlier times, to immerse herself in a passive role, knowing there was nothing she could do except absorb it all like a sponge. And when she was saturated, Glen would reach in, pull her out and wring her dry, and she would put on Anne Waverly again and go back to the university and the trees and her dogs."
As Ana, she keeps a journal in which she writes, as Ana might have done, "the daily thoughts and meditation a of a life-long inhabitant of the New Age, her inner thoughts, reflections, and a record of her dreams. In it she recorded descriptions, personal details, speculations and interesting asides. She could even make detailed if amateurish sketches of her surroundings, and anyone going through her things would see only an innocent diary of events. In truth, it was Ana's means of reporting to Glen" by means of photo-copied pages.
It makes a gripping story, as Ana gradually gets to know first the American leader and then the even more frightening English one, Jonas, and discovers their sinister experiments with alchemy. She finds that Jonas needs a disciple, "someone to listen". But why had he bought a large amount of nitrate fertilizer? He seems preoccupied with ideas of intense heat and change. "It was insane, sure, but Ana could not keep from wondering: Just how big a fire it would take to transmute a man into an immortal?"
It is all written in an intriguing way and with humor, as when the American visitors find that the English use of English can be very puzzling. When little Dulcie decides she wants to go home, Ana points out to her, "There are some nice things here. Have you seen the barn with the horses? And there's lots of kids."
Ana has a nice sense of humor too: when she first meets young Dulcie, she is doing some repair work on the heater of her old Volkswagen bus, and tugging free a length of duct tape with the aid of her right front teeth.
Ana faces a crisis of confidence towards the end. She desperately wants to help Jason and Dulcie, who makes her constantly think of her own lost daughter, but she knows that, as a FBI agent, "The best thing for everyone would be if she were to stand up and walk away from the compound .... But her gut, her heart, her every instinct cried out that here and now, the rational decision would be the wrong one .... There were times when the expedient solution was not the right one, when only faith is justified and action - educated and open-eyed faith if possible, but if that failed, blind faith would have to do." So she becomes Anne again, and acts accordingly.
It all leads up to a surprising and unpredictable ending. Recommended for its insight into the world of cults and its sheer originality.
|The book was given not only a new cover but a new title (see below) for its UK edition.|
|Each chapter is intriguingly preceded by a fairly rough drawing (this one is titled From the journal of Anne Waverly (aka Ana Wakefield), or by the reproduction of part of a document which has some loose relevance to the text.|