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(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 22, 2004)
Tim Rackley misses being a U.S. Marshal...his new job, as a security guard for storage warehouses, doesn’t have half the prestige, satisfaction, or paycheck, but he’s grateful for what he can get. When he comes home one day he meets Will and Emma Henning, parents who have lost their daughter to a cult. Tom and Andrea (Tim's wife, also called Dray) agree to help, not just because of the money and Will’s offer to use his impressive influence to get Tim reinstated, but because they, too, have lost their little girl, but they won’t be able to get Ginny back, as readers might remember from the previous Tim Rackley book, The Kill Clause.
The Hennings know nothing about the cult save for a few buzzwords that their daughter mentioned while home during college vacation ("tap your own inner strength," "learn from your weaknesses...") and the fact she calls him The Teacher. They also know that she’s turned over her money...several million dollars...to the leader. Tim begins investigating by visiting the college and talking to Leah’s roommate. Soon he gets a lead, and to infiltrate the cult he poses as a fabulously wealthy man, freshly come into money.
Hurwitz takes an unflinching look at one of the most horrible...and legal...con jobs in existence. The horrors the cult leader inflicts upon his willing prisoners are disgusting. The virgin girls in the group are called his Lilys, and he is able to mentally manipulate them into serving his every need. He treats them like utter garbage. In one scene, to ruthlessly punish one Lily for not doing things just right, he gives her to one of his men. Watching the colloquium, where Tim is introduced to the Teacher and his ways sounds like a living nightmare as Teacher and his helpers (called Pros) work to strip away all sense of identity, all the while promising to help the people there tap into their inner selves and fight their weaknesses, reforming them into new people. They use buzz words not too different from PBS self-help shows, yet keep everything so general that it could apply to anyone in the audience. One part, where Teacher and his helpers tell the Neos that their parents never loved them resonates especially with Tim, whose own father, in an earlier scene, demonstrates how little he cares for his only child. The seductiveness of the message is clear, and one can see how people, confused and in need of guidance, might fall for it...but Hurwitz takes great pains to show the tragic side of it as the cult victims...er, followers...are drained dry and discarded like garbage. Before Tim gets this far, he speaks to one of the few who managed to leave the cult, and that man, Reggie, is an utter mess...terrified of everything, he can’t even pick which movie he wants to rent.
Tim and Dray and their friend Bear all make a strong and interesting team. Tim decides not to just kidnap Leah...which means that they have to find other means to get her away from the cult. The way they handle the situation is marvelous, making up for the pain that we have to go through (I felt so terrible for these people, and so disgusted with the Teacher) that the solution Tim and company came up with was almost uplifting. I also like how Tim and Dray, in particular, are developing. The death of their little girl is still a force in their lives, but they are progressing in the healing process in ways that make sense.
The Program, with it’s intimate look into the nature of cults and those they prey upon takes psychological suspense to the next level.
- Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Program at the author's website(back to top)
"The Kill Clause"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer SEP 24, 2003)"Tim's first reaction was not what he would have expected of himself. He went ice cold. There was no grief--grief, he'd learn, takes perspective, recollection, time to unfurl. There was just the news slapping him, dense and jarring like face pain."
It was to have been a surprise birthday party...seven year old Ginny's parents, Tim and Dray Rackley, had told her to go to a friend's house to play after school, told her to come home at a certain time, where unbeknownst to her, everyone would be gathered to wish her well. Instead, she was kidnapped, raped, her body dismembered and left in a creek a short distance from her home. Tim and Dray are both in law enforcement. He is a US Marshal, and thus when the killer is found almost immediately, Tim's able to go to where they have him holed up. Despite his fellow officer's encouragement to kill this guy -- who is covered in his little girl's blood -- he pauses, because the killer says something to make Tim think that another person had a part in the murder.
Despite all the evidence, the guy gets off, and Ginny's killer is allowed to go free. His daughter's gone, and his marriage, already strained, is crumbling, then a work related shooting costs him his job. So when he's approached about becoming the executioner for an organization that's sick of seeing criminals let off scot free, he agrees. There's six of them, including a social psychologist and TV personality, his teaching assistant, a pair of brothers, and a former FBI agent. Each person has lost someone dear, each person saw the killer walk away free. They have selected seven cases, of which only one, Tim's, has a personal connection to the group. That one will be the last to be covered, as incentive for Tim to stick around. Each case will be gone over carefully, inch by inch, and the group will decide as a whole whether the person should have gotten off, or if it was a miscarriage of justice. Sounds like a doable idea, doesn't it? Of course, that's if everyone has the same agenda...
There are some very harsh realities covered in this book. The reasons why these killers get off are often borderline ridiculous...but still so real and possible. Kindell, Ginny's killer, got off because he's hearing impaired and couldn't have understood his Miranda rights. That's ok, I mean, I believe in a fair trial and equal justice, but weigh this against the evidence, including tire tracks, finger prints, and her blood all over him and you have to wonder how this is fair. And this is just the first of several examples. It makes you take a hard look at our justice system and wonder if it might not need a least a tiny bit of retooling. It also makes you wonder how things got to be such a mess, and if this "mess" is a good thing, or if the consequences are more than we can bear.
The idea is executed well. For one thing, Hurwitz places in enough context that allows this uncomfortable idea to flow well and work for the reader. The group really looks over things, and even in one case decides the guy really was innocent. They try to work with mercy. Tim was almost pushed into this...things were set up so he could, with a free hand, execute Kindell that first night, a fact his wife won't let him forget, despite her own belief in the law. Having this constant burden of guilt placed upon him, along with the grief and worry about his future makes it seem like in some ways he had no choice. Eventually, though, his respect for the law that he upheld for so much of his life does kick in...which gives another dimension to this thriller.
This book takes a well known idea...the idea of finding justice for ourselves, and creates a thoughtful and original page turner.
- Amazon readers rating: from 36 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Kill Clause at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Tower (1999)
- Minutes to Burn (2001)
- Do No Harm (August 2002)
- The Crime Writer (July 2007) (Published as "I See You" in the UK)
Tim Rackley Series:
- The Kill Clause (August 2003)
- The Program (August 2004)
- Troubleshooter (September 2005)
- Last Shot (September 2006)
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- The official Web site for Gregg Hurwitz
- BlogCritics interview with Gregg Hurwitz (2005)
- Curled Up review of Kill Clause
- Mystery One review of The Program
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About the Author:
Gregg Hurwitz grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. While completing a BA from Harvard in 1995 and a Master's in Shakespearean tragedy from Trinity College, Oxford in 1996, he wrote his first novel, The Tower, a psychological thriller set in and around San Francisco.
Hurwitz writes for TV and films, and has published many highly thought of articles on Shakespeare and his work.
He lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife.