Author Arnold M. Ludwig wrote Blue Smoke and Mirrors as a novel to tell the story of one man’s journey with Jim Jones and Peoples Temple during the 1970s. Most of the characters’ names are fictional, but many of the names closely mirror actual Peoples Temple members. The reality of what happened in California and Guyana with Peoples Temple serves as a basis for the book, and many of the situations closely resemble accounts written by both survivors of the Temple and other authors.
Ludwig discusses the tragedy in Guyana in the novel’s foreword, as well as his inspiration to write this work: an anonymous writer/survivor at Jonestown who had written an eyewitness account of his experiences both in the California Temple and in Jonestown. The anonymous writer had written cryptic notes, but through extensive study, Ludwig was able to gain surprising insights of the destruction of Jonestown and a rather interesting perspective on Jim Jones.
Ludwig creatively uses the main character, Dwight, to provide the reader with insight into the mind of Jones. He also utilizes Dwight to bear witness to several intimate, disparaging, and scandalous events that are assumed to have occurred before Jonestown’s demise and Jim’s death. The manner in which the author includes Dwight’s unspoken thoughts about Jim – among other people and events – makes the writing more engaging and realistic to the way the average person or reader envisions or might envision a “leader” such as Jim Jones.
The novel contains elements of graphic dialogue and content that would not be recommended for specific groups of readers. However, this aspect makes the work assume more familiarity for those who have previously researched the subject matter.
I recommend Blue Smoke and Mirrors for those who have done (some) prior research. I do not feel that it is an appropriate book for beginning students or researchers of Jonestown and/or Peoples Temple. Reading this novel is much easier with background knowledge, because the cast of characters could become confusing; what could possibly be a predictable event within the book would not exist with little to no familiarity concerning Jones and the Temple.
(Matthew Fulmer is an intermediate (school) educator of 16 years. He has written other book reviews for the Jonestown website, and his full collections of writings may be found here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)