Title: The Summoner
Author: Layton Green
Page Count: 318 pages (Kindle format)
Publisher: First Ward
Genre: thriller, paranormal, mystery
Copy for review provided by the author in anticipation of an honest review
A United States diplomat disappears in front of hundreds of onlookers while attending a religious ceremony in the bushveld of Zimbabwe.
Dominic Grey, Diplomatic Security special agent, product of a violent childhood and a worn passport, is assigned to investigate. Aiding the investigation is Professor Viktor Radek, religious phenomenologist and expert on cults, and Nya Mashumba, the local government liaison.
What Grey uncovers is a terrifying cult older than Western civilization, the harsh underbelly of a country in despair, a priest seemingly able to perform impossibilities, and the identity of the newest target.
The first work in a globe-hopping series whose protagonists investigate the world's most bizarre and dangerous cults, The Summoner is a stylish, haunting novel of mystery and suspense that will linger long after the last page is turned. 335 Pages (95,000 words).
I haven't read a true mystery or thriller in awhile, and reading The Summoner was definitely an interesting experience. Not for the squeamish, this story takes politics, religion, anthropology, culture, human rights, and philosophy and shakes them up into a cocktail that's different from other stories out there.
Our unlikely team of protagonists are thrown together purely out of necessity. Dominic Grey, a member of Diplomatic Security, and Nya Mashumba, an agent for the government of Zimbabwe. They've been asked to look into the disappearance of a minor diplomat. The disappearance would have been pretty much ignored except for the fact that this diplomat is well-connected and also disappeared during a religious ceremony conducted by a sect that the Zimbabwean government finds problematic, to say the least.
Hopes that the diplomat will show up at a secret girlfriend's house or befuddled after a few days' overindulgence are quickly dashed when Grey and Nya realize that the answers they seek are intertwined with the practices of JuJu, an African religion as complex as it is mysterious to Grey and Nya. They're joined in their investigation by Professor Viktor Redek, a religious phenomenologist, who provides most of the background information on JuJu and what its beliefs and practices look like.
This isn't an action adventure type of thriller- there are no car chases or anything like that. The tone of the story is much more cerebral and the details are revealed slowly and percolate for awhile before the next layer of the story is unwrapped. This isn't to say that the story isn't engaging- far from it, in fact. This is just a story that isn't afraid to take time for the telling, and the reader needs to pay attention.
The setting of Harare, Zimbabwe is almost a character in and of itself throughout the story. We as the audience are exposed to the corruption and poverty that permeate every level of society and we see it from the perspective not only of Grey, an outsider, but of Nya, for whom this is her native land. We see the destruction that greedy and indifferent people can wreak on a nation, and that large scale havoc is played against the small scale havoc of trying to solve the disappearance of one man. The note from the author says that this story shouldn't be interpreted as an historical account, but it definitely should make one want to find out the real story, such as it is.
As the story deepens and progresses, we learn that just about everybody here is keeping secrets, whether they be about the case or about other things, including both our intrepid investigators. I have to say, though, that the secrets Professor Viktor's keeping are probably the most intriguing ones, in a serious Agent Pendergast kind of way.
The resolution of the mystery was a surprise to me but tied up elements that had been introduced throughout the story thoroughly. The door is wide open for future adventures of Dominic Grey, and that's definitely a good thing. The unusual locale, the incredible detail and evident research that went into the story, and the story that isn't afraid to push the boundaries between the mysterious and the supernatural put future installments in this series on my to-read list for sure.
Layton Green has graciously offered up a print copy of The Summoner to one lucky carnival participant! To enter, just fill out the form below. Then, don't forget to comment on this post saying you entered the giveaway for The Summoner for an added shot at the $25 Amazon gift card! Please note that this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only..