Discover more from Read More Books
Visions of Apocalypse, in Fiction and Non-Fiction
Issue #289, featuring Louise Penny and Leah Sottile
Happy Friday, readers!
I’ve always really enjoyed stories set in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic landscapes. The setting works so well to distill everything that’s most important in life, while providing thrills along the way.
The books featured today aren’t set in that kind of world, but rather touch on it more obliquely — the main characters have visions of apocalypse that impact their actions. The first is a non-fiction true crime thriller that’s been in the news this week; the second is another Gamache novel from the mind of Louise Penny.
Before we jump in: If you missed it on Tuesday, I’m now partnering with Chirp as an audiobook affiliate. I love Chirp because it’s not a subscription model like Libro.fm or Audible; everything is a la carte. And the monthly deals are incredible. A few of my favorites on sale right now:
When you use my links to purchase I get a small commission, which helps to support this newsletter. Thanks in advance!
When the Moon Turns to Blood by Leah Sottile
Published: 2022 | Pages: 298 | Genre: Non-Fiction (Crime)
The Daybells, Lori and Chad, have been in the news again this week as Lori — “doomsday mom” — was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her two children and her husband’s ex-wife. Chad’s trial, for the same crimes, doesn’t take place until next spring.
In When the Moon Turns to Blood, published in 2022, journalist Leah Sottile tells the story of how these two people went from upstanding Mormons to harbingers of the apocalypse to murderers.
As with any murder and any murderer, untangling the genesis and motivations for the Daybells’ violence is a thorny task. There are threads of religious extremism, far-right constitutionalist ideologies, mental health crises, and unresolved childhood trauma. Any one or two of those might not have led to murder, but — in this particular case — when all of those potent strands combined in a single household the result was horrific.
Throughout the gripping narrative, Sottile compassionately explores the inevitable questions of this crime: How do the foundations of a religion push certain types of people to the extreme edges? How do politics and conspiracy theories — combined with the radicalizing nature of the internet — encourage irrational, sometimes devastating outcomes? How should a community, and the rule of law, respond when fanaticism is dangerously fused with mental illness and delusion?
From the start, I had a hard time putting down When the Moon Turns to Blood. The subject matter is undeniably heavy at times, but the combination of apocalyptic beliefs and true crime is catnip for me.
I highly recommend pairing it with Sottile’s podcast, Bundyville, which delves into a number of related themes.
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
Published: 2015 | Pages: 376 | Genre: Fiction (Mystery/Crime)
The central premise of this novel seemed a bit ridiculous at first: A so-called “supergun” hiding in the remote forests of Quebec? A machine so terrifying and legendary that its very idea has spawned death? Come on.
Turns out that Gerald Bull — a secondary character in this story — was 100% real and did, in fact, plan on constructing a supergun.
Along with solving the mystery of the supergun itself, now-retired Armand Gamache must also help untangle how the apocalyptically-decorated weapon played a part in the murder of a little boy.
As with any mystery novel, I don’t want to give you any more than the barebones outline of the story. You don’t need more than that. In reviewing a title in a long-running series, what I instead need to do is describe what makes this one different.
Penny’s sense of place — a small village in rural Quebec — is unbeatable. And the earnest characterizations of the people in Three Pines invariably make me feel like I’m visiting old friends. Those characteristics carry over across all the novels, though.
What really sets The Nature of the Beast apart are the darker undertones that haven’t often been present in the world of Inspector Gamache. Murder is always distressing, of course, but this one gets into the realms of terrorism, the apocalypse, and the death of a child.
Those themes can be oppressive, but in Penny’s hands, they’re explored so thoughtfully and compassionately that the final payoff is even more powerful. The Nature of the Beast is a superb installment in my favorite mystery series.
Thanks so much for reading! I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.