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‘All those years ago, five children survived. Now there were four’



American-Canadian author/journalist/educator Craig DiLouie has published many novels in the genres of thriller, apocalyptic horror and sci-fi fantasy fiction, winning myriad awards and securing a wide audience. One area of focus in which he excels is his uncanny ability to create novels about the causes, impact, and devastation of war and other human foibles. His insight into the impact of cults, though depicted as fiction, is as fine as any novelist writing today. He lives in Calgary, Canada.

The new terrain of THE CHILDREN OF RED PEAK is the dark (and currently active!) theme of cults, those sequestered sects that manage to influence and harbor gullible people needing to ‘belong‘ or venerate some ‘ideal.’ Craig uses this ingeniously as a means to reflect on youth’s ‘search for the meaning of life and the yearning for existence beyond death.’ A newspaper clip is included – ‘The Family of the Living Spirit: in 2005, a teenager burst into a sheriff’s station in Medford, California, with a bizarre story. More than 100 members of the group founded by Reverend Jeremiah Peale had committed mass suicide and murder at its commune at nearby Red Peak, preceded by months of ritualized mutilations. The sheriff drove to the site to discover the group had vanished, leaving behind five children in all to be rescued. An extensive search turned up no other survivors or bodies, resulting in the “Medford Mystery” that has endured 15 years.

In his distinctive manner of drawing the reader into his novel, Craig opens with a contemporary (adult) funeral for one of the former cult members – Emily – as the narrator David reflects on his childhood drama: ‘‘After years of outrunning the past, David Young now drove straight toward it. His Toyota hummed south along the I-5 as the sunmelted into the coastal horizon. The lemon trees flanking the road faded into dusk. Most nights, he enjoyed the solitude of driving. He’d roll down the window and disappear in the sound of his tires lapping the asphalt, soothing as a Tibetan chant. Not this time. California was burning again. The news blamed the wildfire on a lightning strike in the sequoias. Dried out by the changing climate, the forest went up like a match. Outside the car, the air was toxic. A crimson glow silhouetted the Sierra Nevadas like a mirror sunset. Red Peak called to him from all that fire and ash. David turned on the radio to drown out his memories. He’d spent years forgetting. In all that time he hadn’t kept in touch with others. He hadn’t even told his wife about the horrors he’d survived…’

Craig’s plot outline succinctly condenses the scope of the story: ‘David Young, Deacon Price, and Beth Harris live with a dark secret. As children, they survived a religious group's horrific last days at the isolated mountain Red Peak. Years later, the trauma of what they experienced never feels far behind. When a fellow survivor commits suicide, they finally reunite and share their stories. Long-repressed memories surface, defying understanding and belief. Why did their families go down such a dark road? What really happened on that final night? The answers lie buried at Red Peak. But truth has a price, and escaping a second time may demand the ultimate sacrifice.’

Craig DiLouie’s prose is eloquent, deeply compelling, and explores those encumbrances in the path from youth to maturity. It touches many chords of recognition, and that is yet another trait of a brilliant writer. Very highly recommended.

~Grady Harp