This is an amazing best selling novel: a story of sisterhood, fatherhood, romantic love, and a woman’s growth from a total dependency into a surprisingly strong self-sufficient person. It’s also a story of lies, almost unimaginably violent crimes, torture, blood and death. It is certainly the most disturbing book I’ve ever read.

What’s worse than a serial killer? How about a father – son team of killers who capture young women in the late teens and early twenties, chain them to a wall in a basement, torture them for days with cattle prods and branding irons and then murder them with a machete and rape them as they’re dyeing. First the father and later the son videotape their crimes, then carefully edit the video, and sell copies of their “snuff porn” to an international cadres of sickos while the police and certain politicians protect them and even participate in the commission of their evil. 

This is certainly literature designed to raise awareness of the depths of human depravity. It’s told with such power that, in spite of the horror of its subject matter, it’s almost impossible to stop reading. To my knowledge, nowhere in the vast array of popular literature on serial killing is a story told with such unrelenting focus on the details of the acts of torture, rape and murder. They are never presented licentiously (how could they be) but nevertheless the author spares nothing in giving us the poisonous specifics that make it all so real. 

The novel focuses on the Carroll family: mother, father, grandmother and three sisters. Daughter Julia disappears when she is 19 after visiting a bar near the University of Georgia campus. The police soon decide that there’s no reason to suspect abduction. She’s a free-spirited girl who probably wandered off to join a commune. Her father just doesn’t buy it, and some of the story is told in his letters to Julia written long after her disappearance. Eventually he commits suicide because he cannot bear the pain. 

Julia’s younger sister Clare is married to Paul, who, by the time the story really begins, is an amazingly successful architect with multi million dollar contracts steered his way by a prominent congressman. She’s and her husband get together in a bar one night and, as they walk home together, he becomes surprisingly lustful. He pulls her into an ally and begins to make rather aggressive love to her. Suddenly a large man steps out of the shadows, demands their jewelry and money and then he stabs Paul to death. Clare, who has depended on Paul for everything throughout all of their 18-year marriage, is emotionally destroyed. 

After the funeral, Clare returns home to find the police and the FBI all over their multi-million dollar home. In the process of helping the police Clare takes a look at her husband’s computer. She can’t believe what she sees: dozens of files of snuff porn in which young women are tortured for hours, probably over a period of several days, then murdered with a machete and raped as they are dying. Clare takes copies of the videos to the police who tell her that the death scenes are fake and that she shouldn’t be concerned that one of the victims looks very much like a college girl who has recently gone missing from the Georgia campus just as her sister had years earlier.

Clare doesn’t trust the police, and somehow, in the depths of her despair, she reaches out to her estranged sister, Lydia, who had once accused Paul of trying to rape her. Through a very rocky, distrustful, series of conversations they decide to explore any possible connection Paul might have had to the snuff porn creators. The results of their efforts, brings both of them face to face with the torturing masked man who appears as the murderer in all of those videos. 

As I’ve said, this is very disturbing stuff, and certainly not for anyone who couldn’t get through Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game or A Good Marriage. But if you want a riveting, unforgettable descent into the evils of humanity, and a study of what it takes for a woman to rise above all the dependency that her husband has programmed into her, read it. Lot’s of people have.