Monday, August 29, 2011


I don’t know which of my 7 Criminal Minds cohorts came up with this week’s question, but it’s reasonable to assume it was someone who doesn’t write amateur sleuth mysteries. Unless she stumbled upon a cult of murderous cross stitchers, scrapbookers, or quilters, I think Anastasia Pollack would be hard-pressed to blend in.

Really, think about the various cults that crop up on the news. Skinheads? My reluctant amateur sleuth doesn’t sport a single tattoo, and the only piercings are the ones she has in each earlobe. If those holes are still even open. Anastasia isn’t someone who has time to bother with earrings most mornings, so it’s safe to say those holes may have closed on their own from disuse.

Religious cults? That might be even harder for Anastasia to pull off. She’s basically a lapsed whatever. Again, she hasn’t had time to attend church ever since her dead louse of a spouse left her in debt up the wazoo, and after the crap she’s had dumped on her over the last year, she’s on the verge of seriously beginning to question whatever beliefs she once held. One recurring question she’s pondered is what the hell did she do in a past life to warrant the troubles she now faces in her present life? Not that she ever believed in past lives prior to the start of her troubles, but there’s got to be some explanation for the bizarre turn her life has taken.

Satanic cult? Anastasia definitely would not be able to keep a straight face at the idea of a red guy with horns and a tail living within a brimstone and fire pit. And can you imagine what would happen should she suddenly hit early menopause and have to deal with all that excess heat?

Voodoo cult? She’d toss her cookies during the ceremonies where they sacrifice livestock.

Witchcraft cult? Again, she’d have a hard time keeping a straight face.

So if Anastasia found herself in need of investigating a cult, chances are, she’d have to find a patsy, uhm…an assistant…to infiltrate for her. She’s just not that good of an actress to pull it off herself. Unless, of course, we’re talking about a cult of crafters. If that’s the case, Anastasia is your go-to girl.

Lois Winston recently finished the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,


Donna White Glaser said...

Laurie R King managed it when she wrote A Darker Place. I guess you could say her amateur sleuth was semi-pro though. Anne Waverly, a university professor, works with the FBI to infiltrate cults and determine whether they are near the breaking point leading toward violence. This is my favorite King book and I wish she'd do more with Waverly. Fascinating read that looks into the dynamics of cults and shows you the real people that get tied up in them.

That's the other reason why I think an amateur could venture in. You don't start out in a cult knowing all the things they want you to know. In fact, they would probably prefer a clean slate--religious or psychologically oriented ones anyway. I think the right amateur could pull it off.


Lois Winston said...

You could be right, Donna. I just don't think my particular amateur sleuth would be able to pull it off. Thanks for stopping by.

Patricia said...

I love reading about cults because I find them so unusual and intriguing. The whole "Jim Jones" debacle to this day stays in my mind as something I'll never forget. How do the leaders of these cults pull their followers in? How do they keep their followers in line? Are all their followers alike in some way? These are all questions that could make for an interesting plot. Perhaps Anastasia could find a way to "blend in"?

Meredith Cole said...

I once heard a program on NPR in which they asked what the difference was between a religion and a cult--apparently if your leader is still alive you're group is defined as a cult. So perhaps slavish followers of Martha Stewart might qualify?

Lois Winston said...

Patricia, I'll have to give that some thought for a future book. Right now, dealing with a flooded house, thanks to Irene, I'm thinking I'll throw a flood at Anastasia next. That will have to wait until book 4, though, since I've already turned in book 3.

Meredith, I love the way you think! I've always suspected there was something sinister going on with la Martha. ;-)

Liz said...

Her mother-in-law seems a prime candidate.

Lois Winston said...

LOL, Liz! Lucille is definitely the mother-in-law everyone loves to hate.

E. F. Watkins said...

I think a fairly conventional religious cult--as opposed to Satanic!--would be the easiest to infiltrate. Even as an amateur, she'd have to learn something ahead of time about their beliefs so she'd say the right things. If she adopted the typical attitude of a searcher who was fed up with the modern world and looking for meaning, they'd probaby embrace her. But of course, she'd have to go in willing to surrender her individuality for the time it took to find out the information she needed. Even the most independent-minded person could do it IF she was willing to play a role--and a bit of an actress.

dbschlosser said...

I think one important variable is the sophistiaction and history of the organization, and how suspicious it is of being infiltrated. A group that's dedicated to bringing a message of love and harmony to the whole world is likely to be less suspicious than a group that believes its leader has some sort of messianic message that only a few people are wise or blessed enough to understand.

As a personal example, we recently hosted a teenager from England for a few weeks. On our trip to DC, he saw the Church of Scientology and wanted to check out the visitor center. (Scientology is more controversial in Europe than in the US, and banned as a cult in a couple of countries.)

It was obvious to me that the people in the visitor center were highly attuned to sightseers and people without a true interest in Scientology beyond the opportunity to observe what many people consider odd or bizarre. They ushered us around and were quite careful in their questions, and were able to discern pretty quickly that we weren't potential recruits.

On the other hand, a less organized and smaller cult - particularly one that's in need of recruits to earn credibility or money - might tend to be less diligent in screening out infiltrators. Particularly if the cult leader is mentally ill, rather than simply mercenary, infiltation of the true believers can be much easier simply because they're looking for other true believers to validate themselves.

Kelli Stanley said...

The evil crafting cult ... I think you're on to something, Lois! ;)

Great post!