Blood Atonement is a taut, entertaining thriller that kept me turning the pages. A few years ago, teenager Grace DeRoche and nine other other children and teens escaped Brigham, a fundamentalist Mormon compound in British Columbia, and worked with police to prosecute the leaders. Unfortunately, before justice can be served, the bishop (group leader) convinces the remaining residents to commit mass suicide, and his own body isn’t found amongst the victims.
Grace now lives in solitude, with only her service dog Bella and her therapist Shelby as the main figures in her life. Grace has dissociative identity disorder, caused by the abuse she lived through at Brigham, and when the other Brigham escapees begin dying under suspicious circumstances, some of the evidence suggests that Grace, or one of her alters, may be responsible.
Blood Atonement is a long book at about 400 pages, but very much a quick read. It flips back and forth in time from Grace’s present day situation to her experiences on the compound and the events that led to her alters being formed. I found the present-day mystery interesting, but the most intriguing parts of the novel for me were in the flashbacks.
It’s really troubling to see how women and girls at the compound were treated, and how little agency they had over their lives. In an uncomfortable early scene, a young Grace is ordered by Boydell, the bishop’s son and neighbourhood bully, to get him some lemonade. Freedman does a great job in portraying Grace’s fear as she’s trying to understand exactly what Boydell wants from her, and the moment where he demands, “What are you supposed to say to me?” and she stammers, “I am-am here to do your will.” is heartbreaking. When Grace gets her period at 13 and the bishop has a ‘revelation’ that she’s meant to marry Boydell, the only escape she can envision is that the bishop will make the marriage vows last only ‘for time,’ and not ‘for time and eternity.’ It’s heartbreaking, and makes it even sadder to read about how challenging the lives of the “Brigham 10” were even after they escaped.
Still, beyond all that, the bulk of the story is a fun whodunnit. Freedman keeps up a brisk pace, and provides little clues and red herrings throughout that keep you guessing who the killer could be. I only guessed the big reveal shortly before Grace and the detective investigating the murders did themselves.
TW: suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, miscarriage, addiction, mental illness
[No animals were harmed, and the dog lives.]
Thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.