White Heat by Brenda Novak
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: Full (442 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Books
Reviewed by Camellia
A dangerous cult has recently taken over the desert ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members worship at the feet—and in the bed—of its charismatic leader, Ethan Wycliff, and obey his orders blindly. They've already tried to murder one woman and they're implicated in the disappearance of another.
Nate Ferrentino, who works for private security contractor Department 6, has been assigned to infiltrate this group. It's a challenge he welcomes—until he learns that colleague Rachel Jessop will be going undercover with him. Thanks to their shared history, he'd much rather go alone….
The problem is, only married couples can participate in cult rituals. So, like it or not—and they don't—Rachel and Nate must pretend to be husband and wife.
There's no choice. Because if Wycliff isn't exposed, if he isn't stopped, more people will die. And Rachel might be one of them.
The depravity found in a cult isolated in Paradise, Arizona overrides all else in White Heat. Rachel and Nate’s story dims in the light of Brenda Novak’s descriptions of the cult’s abhorrent actions. The highly emotional happenings in the cult and the tension between Nate and Rachel keep the reader engaged, even though the story has some slow spots.
Rachel Jessop of Department Six is tough, knows how to role play, can handle a gun, and has a childhood background that makes her the right person for the secret mission to infiltrate the cult. However, she’s not sure she knows how to protect her heart from the partner she must work with. His rejection of her love six months earlier left her bereft and vulnerable. Reared by a religious, fanatical father and deprived of normal teenage activities to learn how to handle herself with boy/girl encounters, she struggles with the sexual energy that crackles between her and Nate even after his rejection.
Past experience makes Nate Ferrentine reject Rachel’s offer of love. He wants her but denies himself and hurts her even though she is beautiful and tempting. He works at inconsequential chores in the white heat of the Arizona summer and does some rather thoughtless things to fight his need to make love with her in the broken-down mobile home they are staying in to do the dangerous job of bringing the cult’s misdeeds to light.
Psychopath Ethan Wycliff, founder of the Church of the Covenant cult, is educated, rich, and an admirer of Charles Manson. He likes Manson’s belief that “women are where it’s at”. They can be brainwashed to yield and even to kill in order to please a strong leader. He appears to have no redeeming qualities. His closest disciple, Bartholomew, shares the trait of no redeeming qualities and loves the power he has. Together they create a terrifying environment for men, women, and children.
The suffering and degradation of the cult members become more and more evident as the story progresses. When Rachel is chosen as the VESSEL, descriptions of the doings in the pit and of what is to happen in the open area of Paradise for all to see, as the ceremony takes place for the VESSEL, is horrific.
White Heat touches on many issues brought to light in other cults like Manson’s, Jim Jones’s, and David Koresh’s groups. The desire for power over others is an obsession that seems insatiable.
Brenda Novak’s White Heat is an intense, emotional story that finally reaches a happy-ever-after for Rachel and Nate, but the plight of many of the other characters lingers in the mind long after the story ends.