Author: Thomas Hauck
Published: Avanti Literary (2010); printed by Booklocker.com, Inc.
In this thriller, FBI agent Mark Dylan investigates a couple of suspicious deaths in the Boston area, two bodies recovered from the water exhibiting some strange cuts and completely drained of blood, which ultimately leads Dylan to suspect a popular cult known as the Kingdom Seven Family Temple and its founder, Lucas Manson. It's established pretty quickly that Dylan's on the right track, as the novel follows his investigation as well as the efforts of Manson et al in covering the tracks of their bloodthirsty practices. And that's the early twist to the novel, as alternating chapters show Lucas Manson and those in his inner circle drinking the blood of selected victims. Dylan, while trying to cope with failed attempts at conceiving a child with his wife in his home life, winds up in a global chase for the truth about the murders and Lucas Manson's cult, going so far as Egypt to track a historical link to what's happening.
If you read this and find allusions to Scientology and other organizations within the Seven Family Temple, it's purely intentional I suspect. But beyond that, there is an approach to vampirism that treats it with a kind of juxtaposition to minority groups and religious oppression. And as Dylan digs deeper into the cult that becomes more obvious, especially as he ends up becoming more intimately involved in the whole thing than he could have ever imagined.
Sometimes I read a book and it fails to connect with me on some level, yet I'll have a hard time articulating what it was I didn't like about it. You've probably had the same experience with books in your life.
In the case of Lucas Manson, I think my failure to really like the book came from two aspects.
Firstly, I couldn't bring myself to root for the protagonist, Mark Dylan. Too often I'll read a thriller like David Morrell's The Shimmer or Lisa Jackson's Malice, and I just won't connect with the character through whom I'm supposed to experience the story. Despite my efforts to read against my prejudice towards the "tormented cop" archetype, I just couldn't bring myself to care about him. I won't venture to describe him as a cardboard cut-out, because he does get put through the wringer in a manner that was different, but it wasn't enough--or the right set of ingredients--to win me over.
Secondly, I'm a big fan of dialog from guys like Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman. They've got a knack for making conversations read like genuine conversations. In Lucas Manson, there was something about the dialog in spots that felt artificial. Moments where the dialog really felt like it was there purely to inform me rather than the characters. It's easy to get over in small doses, and it's unavoidable I guess when there is so much complexity and history to the plot, but I felt there was too much of it in this book for me to ignore. Perhaps it's the context of sermonizing in the Manson portions and lecturing academia and investigative procedure in the Dylan--whatever the case, there was just too much for me to handle.
While I didn't care for this novel, I do have to give credit to Hauck for creating a pretty good villain in Lucas Manson. Where I found Dylan to be a dry kind of character, Manson--like any notable bad guy--comes off as a charismatic conniver. He's a villain you love to loath. He's manipulative, shrewd, ruthless, and a bit of a horn dog in some scenes. And the plot of the cult weaseling its way into mainstream society inch by inch exemplified that.
I also found that cult-as-corporation thing worked and the Kingdom Seven Family was given enough detail to make it believable, particularly as the inner workings were revealed. I won't spoil the end, but the revelation that occurs towards the end between Dylan and Manson was a welcome bright spot in a novel I had trouble sticking with.
I'd recommend this book to ravenous thriller fans looking for something a little off the beaten path, but I'm not sure of its appeal beyond that grouping. Chances of finding a more appreciative audience lie with that crowd, I suspect.