If you’ve always thought that only the weak and easily swayed join cults, Greg Hurwitz’ chilling novel The Program will shock you. This frightening story takes us deep inside a “self-empowerment” cult that knows all the tools and techniques for attracting the young, wealthy, intelligent and disenchanted - and they make it look easy to boot. Easy enough to attract young Leah Henning, the daughter of a powerful film producer.
Leah’s disappearance and obvious abduction into a strange cult sends her parents to Tim Rackley, a fallen Deputy Marshall, and his feisty wife, Dray. The job of finding Leah falls on Tim’s lap, even though he has been taken off the force due to a scandal involving the murder of Tim’s daughter. But soon it becomes apparent that Tim, and only Tim, has what it takes to get inside the cult and find Leah, whether she wants to be found or not.
Tim’s journey leads him to a former cult member named Reggie who helps him put the pieces together. Tim also encounters some of the cult’s slick recruiters when he pretends to be a college student, and soon he is on the inside. The cult is called The Program, and it is led by a mysterious man known as the Teacher. Sort of a Tony Robbins on acid, with a touch of Charles Manson thrown in, the Teacher is so clever at persuading thousands of people to join the Program, most notably those who have large bank accounts, which they eventually sign over to the Teacher willingly, if not altogether consciously.
As Tim spots Leah at recruiting events, he begins to befriend her and work on breaking through her mental and emotional walls the cult members have succeeded in erecting. The story takes on a race against time feel as Tim struggles to wake Leah up to the truth about the corrupt Teacher, who preys upon his members with such finesse, and about the real truth behind the Program itself. Leah refuses to believe it is a cult, and that becomes the biggest obstacle for Tim.
With Tim’s strong and courageous wife, Dray, who plays such a powerful and pivotal role in the story, behind him, as well as some newfound help from a professional deprogrammer who specializes in getting kids out of cults, Tim sets out to prove the Teacher is not just a fraud but a murderer before the cult’s ruthless security goons can silence him and Leah forever.
The world of cults opens up to us in this exciting and thoroughly researched novel, and it is clear author Hurwitz, who also wrote the best-selling Kill Clause and The Tower, really did his homework in presenting the reader with a detailed examination of the psychological dynamics involved in the cult, as well as the actual manner in which new members are broken down into submissive robots (the sequences involving the initiatory weekend seminars where “neos” are first introduced to The Program are exhausting, but eerily effective). It is surprising to find out that even the most “intelligent” among us are susceptible to these tactics, which often involve boosting our ego and building up our self-image. Even the rough and road-weary Tim Rackley finds this out as he is drawn deeper into
The Program is a wild ride into a world hopefully few of us will ever encounter for real. Not only do we come to love and cheer for the heroes - and there are so many here to cheer for - we really begin to understand that evil comes in many forms, some of them offering the promise of personal success and salvation. My only complaint is that I would have liked to know more about the backstory of the evil and ruthless Teacher – how he became so cruel and mentally unbalanced. But even without that information, I found this story believable, powerful and just great fun to read.