The Children of Red Peak – Craig DiLouie

Synopsis: 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.

“David devoted time and energy to provide as loving and warm a home as he was able, a safe cocoon armored against the horrors of the world he knew too well.”

I had just finished a book & was deciding on what to pick up next. So I said to myself: Self, why not start reading about a religious cult during this wolf moon? Why not, Self? WHY THE HELL NOT?!

So I did. And goddamn, it was good. Insanely good!

The Children of Red Peak is the latest offering from Craig DiLouie, which tells the story of an end-times cult & the survivors that reunite years later. It’s a psychological thriller with cosmic horror elements, told through flashbacks interspersed throughout present day.

Following the events of 9/11, Reverend Jeremiah Peale takes it as a sign that doomsday is on the horizon. He forms The Family of the Living Spirit, an isolated religious community at the foot of a mountain near Red Peak, California. The Family begins as a loving, supportive group.. but ends in something far more sinister.

Only five survived the horrors at Red Peak, but now one of them have taken their own lives because of the immense trauma that they’ve suffered in their past. David Young, Deacon Price & Beth Harris have been brought back together after all of these years to honor their childhood friend. David is now an exit counselor, helping cult members get out of their situation; Deacon is a musician on the rise; Beth is a psychologist, providing a calming element for the guys, while attempting to rationalize her own feelings about what happened. The fourth survivor is Angela, David’s older sister, now a police detective. She initially doesn’t want anything to do with the reunion, but the past is difficult to leave behind.

“Sometimes, the worst flashbacks came on solely as a feeling, a terrible sensation of dread. Sometimes, they weren’t triggered by what was happening but by foreboding over what might.”

Religion & I don’t usually get along, so horror with religious themes tend to be hit or miss for me. I’m thrilled that this was a massive hit! It’s an impactful examination of trauma, faith, family, repressed memories, coping mechanisms, grief & PTSD. About good & evil, bad things that happen to good people, life & our so-called “purpose.”

As someone who grew up in the age of the Heaven’s Gate cult, religious fanatics that thought the Hale-Bopp comet was in some way connected to an alien spacecraft that would take them from their physical selves & allow them to enter Heaven’s Gate, I’ve always had a deep fascination with cults, probably because it was such a pivotal time in my life that this tragedy represented. What makes a person join groups like this? What breaks within someone to finally build the courage to leave? How does one cope after escaping such horrors?

The Children of Red Peak brings to mind the mass suicide that took place in Jonestown, while reminiscent of Stephen King’s IT, with vibes from The Leftovers. In fact, Max Richter would be my choice to compose the score for what I can only hope will be an eventual adaptation of The Children of Red Peak. TELL ME THAT WOULDN’T BE A PERFECT PAIRING!!

“His breath left him in a gasp as nearly fifteen years rushed past in an instant.”

This isn’t an enjoyable read, especially as a parent. To read what these people put their kids through was brutal, sickening.. intense. Yet, DiLouie crafted something incredibly gripping following these survivors as they navigate real, raw trauma from their childhood & the horrific effects that it still has on them as adults, while flashing back to the events as they were taking place. He had me dipping in & out of a plethora of emotions!

Such an exhausting, addictive read!

I’m going to smash the rest of DiLouie’s work into my skull! Fucking hell. What a brilliant writer!

CW: Almost everything imaginable, what with it being about cults! Cults, suicide, murder, abuse (physical, sexual & psychological), mutilations, religion, brainwashing, PTSD, 9/11 references.

-Holly

(Much thanks to Orbit Books for the copy!)

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