4 out of 4 stars
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Jack Huber’s Children’s Reprise is the fourth book in the Pat Ruger Mystery Series. The author himself confesses that he might have found a niche in the detective/mystery/crime/thriller genres with the novels in this series. Apart from the traditional detective layout, Children’s Reprise does indeed bring something quite original in the field: an insight view on the functioning and threat of teenage-targetting cults.
A former police officer in Denver, Colorado, Pat Ruger is now a PI who has opened up his own agency, PAL Investigations. His ex-fiancée, Amanda has recently got killed because of the FBI case he helped her with. Ever since her death, Pat passes through a serious breakdown in spite of his friends’ efforts to make him pull himself together. One day, a typical middle-class couple asks for his help to find their 16-year-old daughter April who has joined a cult called the Children of Bartholomew. Pat agrees to take their case especially since he knows how dangerous this cult is from previous encounters; in fact, it was Pat who put their former leader Bartholomew Christian behind bars.
Depression is soon a thing of the past as Pat and his friends are thrown in a wild chase for the missing girl. They follow the Children to the small rural town of Rollinsville where the cult had set up their camp and turned into the locals’ nightmare. Sheriff McCoy and deputy John Fielding seem out of options in front of the Children’s new leader, Wesley Jacks. Pat has his suspicions that one or more of the local authorities may be on the Children’s payroll. Things are getting more and more dramatic with every twist of the plot. The members of the cult would stop at nothing in order to continue their dirty business. Drug trafficking, murder and even radiation poisoning are all on their list of wrongdoings. Pat and his team are too close to the truth for their own good.
Jack Huber belongs to Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled school of detective fiction. Children’s Reprise is written in the first person and Pat Ruger seems the reincarnation of Chandler’s famous Philip Marlowe. He is the embodiment of the tough wisecracking private eye who is often cynical and at times contemplative or philosophical. Like Marlowe, Pat somehow ends up the eternal bachelor although women find him irresistible and he was once married or engaged. Fans of the genre will definitely appreciate the character’s keen eye for detail, dry humor and unflinching determination to achieve his own justice. For me, the novel was particularly enjoyable because it gave new life to a type of character who for most had already lived his times of glory. Besides, the plot itself is action-packed with one revelation after another.
An element that saves this novel from anonymity is the description of the inner mechanisms of a cult such as the Children of Bartholomew. Jack Huber craftly uses the storyline to raise people’s awareness on the threat posed by such a cult. For example, Pat takes his time explaining how the members of the cult proceed. They start isolating the teenage boy or girl from everyone they know while never letting them alone without one or more of the members. They use sleep deprivation or blackmail to make the vulnerable adolescents lose their values. Finally, they test them by making them do something illegal, something they would never do under normal cirumstances. In the novel, Terry, one of the taken children, describes the way the cult members made her feel wanted when she felt rejected by her own family. As Pat indicates, one of the brainwashing tenets of such cults is actually disenfranchising kids from their family and reinforcing their beliefs that they were not loved.
At first, I was tempted not to give this novel all its stars because of one or two drawbacks such as the excessive accumulation of sensational elements or some implausible scenes like Pat’s dreams of his dead ex-wife who gives him strength to move on. Nevertheless, I will still rate it 4 out of 4 stars due to the much higher number of positive elements in terms of overall plot and character development. On the whole, the story is well-written and the book is professionally edited. I recommend it to all those drawn to detective fiction in general and hard-boiled detective fiction in particular. Jack Huber proves he is a talented storyteller turning his protagonist into a new emblematic figure of the genre.
Pat Ruger: Children's Reprise
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