Review: “Darkness at the Edge of Town,” Jennifer Harlow

Pros: Lots of interesting dysfunctional characters
Cons: Undercover choice leads to some difficulties
Rating: 4 out of 5

NOTE: Book provided by publisher for review


Jennifer Harlow’s Darkness at the Edge of Town: An Iris Ballard Thriller sees ex-FBI agent Iris Ballard going home, the one place she really doesn’t want to be. Her brother has fallen prey to the influence of a cult, deserting his fiancee, emptying out their bank accounts, and moving onto the cult’s farm. Iris needs to find him (no one seems to know where the farm is–just a house that is used as the cult’s ‘Temple’) and convince him to go home. But it doesn’t take long to find out that he’s in even deeper than she thought. He’s gotten one of the cult members pregnant and has married her. When Iris is just about ready to give up on her brother and allow that he seems to be happy there, she finds out the cult is being investigated by the DEA. Now she’s terrified that the hard-headed DEA agent will act too swiftly and get her brother, among others, killed by the paranoid cult leader/drug runner.

I was a bit surprised that Iris went to visit the cult “undercover,” using a fake name and identity. Her face is all over the news, and if she expects to run into her brother then her cover will be blown as soon as he sees her. Either way, it seems like a foolish choice. It seems to be mostly luck that allows this to work for as long as it does. When she does inevitably get recognized, her deception undermines her credibility with her already-estranged brother, which she should have seen coming.

There’s some adult material as Iris allows the Temple to think they’re recruiting her. It’s a nice touch that the man who tries to seduce her actually seems to believe he’s fallen head-over-heels for her, thanks to the head of the cult’s careful suggestions.

There are plenty of interesting dysfunctional characters, especially among Iris’s family and friends! I like the sheriff who was her mentor in particular. On the other hand, the DEA agent is very stereotypical–so determined to screw with Iris that he risks the lives of everyone in the cult by pushing too hard too fast and ignoring everything Iris tells him. Also, while the bad guy has an interesting background (he was Amish, is gay, and has a wide variety of interesting events in his background), his current personality as shown is that of a pretty one-dimensional bad guy.

Despite my minor misgivings, this is a fascinating story of the ways in which a cult can grab hold of people who need something good in their lives.

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