This 11th in the Decker/Lazarus mystery series is all about cults. Well, all about one particular cult, the Order of the Rings of God. It was started by a once renown physicist who has apparently rolled his marbles into the far reaches of the galaxy and they haven’t rolled back. He has restyled himself Jupiter, and all the cult members have cosmic names, like Pluto and Nova, and a young girl, born into the cult 14 years ago named Vega. The basic theology/philosophy of the group is based on physics and its explanation leaves the listener both rolling their eyes and scratching their head.
I found this particular book quite fascinating, because while in college back in the stone age, I took a course on cults, long before the most famous ones appeared and disappeared, but the upshot of all that study was that all cults are the same: lost and searching members needing validation and nurturing, orbiting around an authoritative charismatic figure, almost always a man, strict rules which prohibit contact with the larger society and demonizing that larger society, positioning the cult as the place with the answers, a substitute daddy figure and substitute hearth and home. Cults all implode, usually the leader’s paranoia gaining in intensity and scope, until the final scene is played out by the larger society’s authorities rescuing the members, most of whom don’t want rescuing, or the group death in a belief they will all be transported to another dimension of some sort.
The story opens with the police receiving a call from the daughter of Jupiter, who hasn’t had contact with her dad in 15 years, saying that someone from the compound called her to tell her that her father died and that she should call the police. Then hangs up. It being apparent that something fishy is going on there, the daughter calls the police and that is how Decker and the intrepid Marge, get involved. When the police show up, the in-charge types insist it is a suicide, and that a cult doctor signed the death certificate. The cult people are rudely uncooperative and don’t want the police around. And it all gets hinky-er from there on in. Because it is becoming clear that this was not a suicide, but very possibly a murder.
On the home front, Decker’s stepsons are being teens. The older wants to study in Israel — in an area not consider particularly safe. Jake, the younger, seems to be getting into difficulties with girls, parties and drugs. Some father-son hearts to hearts reveal that the boy was molested by a computer teacher, hints of which we had in the very first book of the series, Ritual Bath, which explains his behavior. So Decker now has his guilt for not investigating the incident more thoroughly way back when, because he was more interested in the mom than in the kids at the time.
After being the heroine of the hour, Marge, in her forties and unmarried, adopts the 14 year old Vega who has no one to turn to.
And the beat goes on.