Wendy Davidson, a young adult cult survivor, is tough, wizened and relies on her instincts...or not. Having been beaten and abused as a child by the cult's leader, Wendy escaped at age 18 before being forced into becoming the leader's third wife. Even so, Wendy feels compelled to answer her mother's call to come, heading toward the cult rather than away from it. Already emotionally weary, Wendy's trek into her past is taking its toll, and the rainstorm blanketing the Nevada landscape isn't helping matters any. Driving through the vicious display of nature's wrath, Wendy sees a sign for a turnoff into the small town of Summerville, immediately before slamming on her brakes to avoid a pickup truck dead on the road.
After smashing into the vehicle, Wendy takes quick stock and gets out into a deluge of rain. Her cell phone has no service, but she only has a few bruises. Strangely, the truck has bullet holes in it, so retrieving the pistol from her car's console makes sudden, good sense. Checking around the truck, Wendy sees blood but no people. Then she hears a cry and runs down the road where she spots a van; inside, a woman is injured and a man steps into sight. Wendy takes a chance and helps the couple, a brother and sister named Carey and Nicole Swartz, to town to treat the Nicole's snakebite. Before they know it, these three are induced into a deadly hunt where they're forced to make a terrible choice to save their lives.
Meanwhile, in the town proper, police officer Colt Jackson is getting reports of three tornadoes heading their way toward Summerville. To complicate matters, the chief has been killed and an ominous note from Colt's past threatens his new life in the peaceful town. Sterling Red decides that the time is now for taking revenge on Colt. This killer isn't squeamish about cutting body parts, grossly displaying his victims and continuing an ongoing game of cat and mouse with Colt and his other chosen "players." Sterling Red's pattern includes ingesting large amounts of mustard and mayonnaise after every killing.
Colt, Wendy, Carey and Nicole take refuge from the storm's fury in an empty library. After a restless night's sleep, they find the town gone and are dumbfounded. How could the entire town be wiped out from the tornadoes? Enter another hapless character. Jerry Pinkus, whose bloodied hand is missing his index finger, comes in screaming. Sterling Red ups the ante and orders them to kill the ugliest in the group. So starts the philosophical debating, the posturing and the frightening choices each must make to protect his or her own skin.
The five live long enough to see the town reappear. They then become suspects as Sterling Red continues murdering other townspeople. Add in a skilled but eccentric detective, a savant son of a murdered couple whose foretelling makes the victims take pause, and the hint of manipulation by some designer drug, and Colt and company are reduced to five wounded, confused and morally decimated individuals. Still, none of them can afford to give up --- not until Sterling Red says so. And he isn't about to give in. Who exactly is Sterling Red anyway?
Ted Dekker's ingenious and riveting story will surprise and delight fans across the board as he asks (and implies) important questions throughout the drama. Though the entirety of this journey is boldly offered, Dekker once again successfully tempers the action segments with even more powerful and subtly written life lessons.
--- Reviewed by Michele Howe
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