With his extensive scholarly background in Medicine, Psychiatry, Creativity and the Psychological attributes of leadership, Dr. Arnold Ludwig is the ideal person to turn novelist and concoct a very unlikely yarn about a very unlikely event which – by the way – actually did happen.
How do you make a thriller about an event which has already been exhaustively analyzed with the tragic outcome already well known? Blue Smoke & Mirrors provides the answer. It is by ever so gradually drawing the reader into an increasingly believable web of distortion, double speak and confusion so that eventually the reader himself eventually begins to fear his own “conversion” and loss of reality.
This powerful effect is created through identification with the mysterious, stuttering narrator Dwight Urban who, on an unspecified “mission,” enters Peoples Temple and gradually insinuates himself into the leadership circles, becoming increasingly aware of the deceptive and vicious behavior required to keep the cult’s faithful in line. Our identification is strongly enhanced here as we read both the narrator’s minimal speech, compromised by his stutter, and a simultaneous rendering of the unspoken thoughts of a brilliant but largely unknown undercover investigator. In a way, the flow of the narrative becomes the delicate interaction of two high-level con artists, often with the life of the protagonist in the balance. As the fast-paced interaction continues, we experience the inner workings of the “Religion” and the amazing and unwavering commitment that the faithful have come to have for their leader or “living God”. What is even more amazing is the fact that through Dwight’s inner thoughts, the reader comes, to one’s own surprise, to actually share a kind of admiration for, and at times, almost a belief in, the stated noble mission proclaimed by Jim Jones. Tempering this is Dr. Ludwig’s ongoing analysis of Jones’ character and numerous medical and psychiatric and psychopharmacologic problems and their influence on the outcome.
As the well-known end approaches, (but wait, is it really “well known”?) the plot takes many complex twists and turns involving deception, love, sex and a possible involvement of the United States Government. Through this maze of double – and triple – cross, Ludwig leads us to a surprising explanation of the Jonestown tragedy which in turn makes one wonder if that explanation is, in fact, really that implausible.
Besides being an exciting and action-packed mystery about a tragic event that stunned the world forty years ago, this book may carry an increasingly relevant message for the present day. In our current polarized world, where technology has created the even greater possibility of thought control, we are drawn back to the image of Jim Jones and the unwavering psychotic beliefs for which followers of Peoples Temple were willing to surrender their lives.