The book opens with Judith, visiting her mother, Stephanie, in prison. Through flashbacks, Wait shows mother and daughter inducted into a group who live their lives in “The Ark”. Judith immediately senses the hypocrisy, but Stephanie is blinded by the charisma of cult leader Nathaniel. Judith’s only real comfort is a boy by the name of Moses. Something about his wide eyed naivety draws her to him in a protective fashion.
While the novel has its darker moments, there is hope to found through the touching friendship between Judith and Moses. The scenes where they walk together through the moors, and she tries to open his eyes to the real world are often amusing, but occasionally heart-breaking, and this is where the real heart of The Followers emerges, as their friendship becomes stronger, and they come to understand the terrifying influence of charismatic people over those who believe themselves to be lost and in need of direction.
Empathy and understanding underpin The Followers, inviting us to love its central trio in spite of their faults, and recognising that being powerless can lead to bad decisions but that we can sometimes take that power back, even when the cost is high. Despite an ending that most readers will see coming a mile off, it’s worth spending time in the Ark with Stephanie, Judith and Moses in the hands of an author who is clearly passionate about the issues raised in her work.
A Perfect Crime (Oneworld Publications, £10.99) by Chinese Author A Yi also deals, on some level, with powerlessness, but in this bleak world view, there seems to be no escape from the dark impulses that can take control of our ethical compass. Our narrator is a bored teenager in provincial China who kills his only friend and goes on the run. The most unsettling thing about this, is that for all that we try to pin down the reasons for his actions, he may have none at all. His powerlessness – and by extension ours – is rooted in his lack of discernible motive. He is simply compelled to do what he does.
A Yi deliberately leaves a deliberate moral hole at the centre of his story, as even his narrator seems at a loss to find the root cause of his violent, pre-planned murder. This chilling approach is reminiscent of works such as Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, although the blank consumerism at the heart of that novel at least provided something the reader can clearly point to as a reason for its character’s attitudes and actions.
A Perfect Crime rarely makes for easy reading, and some readers – even those who delight in dark fiction – may find the premise and execution too much to bear. There is little redemption to be found here, simply a kind of sadness that, no matter how many questions we ask, we may never really understand the mind of such an ordinary killer.
Russel D McLean