cover image The Viper Within

The Viper Within

Sam Mills, . . Knopf, $16.99 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-375-84465-2

U.K. author Mills's U.S. debut about a kidnapping gone haywire ventures into Edward Bloor/Ouida Sebestyen territory, but lacks the tension and shrewd psychological calculation to pull off its sensationalist plot. Jeremiah, an obviously sociopathic high-school student, has founded the Religion of the Hebetheus and persuaded a handful of his damaged peers to join his cult. Convincing his followers that he has overheard a beautiful, supposedly Muslim classmate named Padma (she's Hindu) tell a friend that she has plans to plant a bomb in her locker, he masterminds her kidnapping. The “brethren” hold her hostage for days in a cottage whose tenant, an old lady, lies in her bed, newly dead. Jon, the book's confused narrator, predictably falls for Padma and has a change of heart, as do other disciples; as none of them are any too bright, readers will find it hard to stay interested in their thinking. The fiery Waco-like showdown at the end feels not only obvious but overdue. Ages 14–up. (June)