Book review – A real life masquerades as crime novel

2010-10-23 12:02

Carolyn Jessop is the author of one of the best crime thrillers I have ever read. It is about a woman, trapped in a destructive religious sect and married to an abusive husband, who plots and plans her escape.

The catch is that she has her eight children to take with her – one of whom requires ­constant medical care.

This page-turner would have had the author laughed out of every publishing house on the planet – after all, there is only so much you can ask people to believe. Of course, ­Jessop’s story was true and her book shot up the bestseller lists.

Escape, the book, ended with Jessop beginning to set up an ordinary life – one where her children get educated instead of brainwashed and her lover respects and cares for her. Where she works and gets to keep her salary and where she is not treated as a ­second-class citizen.

The sequel, Triumph, is triggered by the massive police raid on the headquarters of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the cult from which Jessop managed to escape.

The polygamous sect was in the thrall of Warren Jeffs when Jessop escaped, although he has been in jail for some time, and the abuse of the women and children of the sect continued under his lieutenents – one of them, perhaps the most powerful, Jessop’s former husband, Merril.

It was Merril who was in charge of the sect’s Texan compound when the police raided it in April 2008 after a call to emergency services about alleged child abuse. In the raid a mind-boggling number of children were taken into care, while their mothers frustrated the authorities with untruths.

As one of the few people to fully understand the mindset of the people in the cult, Jessop was called in to help the care workers talk to the children and their mothers. Triumph is true to its title and is a testament to how far this amazing woman, who had had eight children by her early 30s but had never had her own bank account, has come since leaving the sect she was born into.

Triumph is also a call to arms for the downtrodden of the cult. It feels as if she is imploring those women to step up and protect their children from the abuse meted out by their fathers, husbands and brothers.

To save their female children from underage marriage and their male children from being cast out of the sect so that they don’t compete with the older men, she tells them how the outside world, which is vilified within the sect, has embraced and supported her since her escape.

Of the 146 families investigated as part of the raid, in 91 cases child abuse and neglect were confirmed and in 39 nothing could be ­determined. Of all those families, only 12 were cleared of any abuse.

Towards the end of the book Jessop writes: “No young woman in the FLDS was ever invited by her mother or anyone in the group to experience the wonders of life. We were taught to fear life, not to embrace it. Growing up, I was continually warned of the dangers of the outside world. Fear kept us confined to the small boxes of our lives.”

The book is all about Jessop’s triumph over this fear. Joyful and life-affirming, if you bit your nails to the quick like I did while reading Escape, you will love this one. If you haven’t yet been inspired by Jessop, read all about it now.

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