The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John

It’s my turn on the blog tour today for this super psychological thriller, set mostly at a retreat in the steamy tropics of Mexico’s rainforest.

Sveta loves Chase, Chase loves Sveta, Chase still loves his mum, and his mother is the one thing standing between them regarding their wedding. It must be on her old monied terms. Sveta, a model, isn’t part of the New England bourgeoisie, and when Chase’s mother says that the wedding will have to be in two years time, Chase can only shrug. Sveta is angry, and walks out of their loft to stay with a friend for a bit.

A few weeks previously, Sveta had a date for dinner with her uncle Paul, a new age spiritual guru, but his partner, the beautiful Kali had been there in his place. The two women bonded in Paul’s absence. However, some weeks later it was a complete surprise when she receives a call from Lucas Baranquilla to tell her that Paul Bentzen was dead, and that he’d left his entire estate, worth around $180M to her, not Kali. Lucas tells Sveta that they must head for Mexico where Paul had based his operations after leaving the USA, to sort things out as soon as possible. Things are suddenly complicated for Sveta – the money would be wonderful – but Lucas is the man she’d lost her virginity to after high school, it was a one-night-stand and she never heard from him again until now. It turns out his father had been Paul’s lawyer, and Lucas took over the family firm after he died.

I was already turning the pages, and they hadn’t even got to Mexico yet!

Xanadu, Paul’s retreat is in the middle of the Mexican jungle, only easily accessible by helicopter then river. After a long journey, Sveta and Lucas arrive to be greeted by Kali, Sveta warmly, Lucas less so. They are introduced to the spiritual commune Kali and Paul had set up.

Alarm bells had clanged from the moment they arrived, they discover their bags and phones are taken away, replaced by linen clothes, a different colour each day. It’s hard to be alone at Xanadu, there are few rooms with doors – except the locked Tech Room of course. Lucas warns Sveta that Kali is unlikely to accept Paul’s will and sure enough she is ready to contest it, with a new will drawn up the day Paul suddenly died. It’s not long before the knives are out. It soon becomes clear that Kali has been running things for some time, making Xanadu her own cult, and that she is dangerous. Sveta and Lucas were only due to stay one day, but apparently the helicopter that would collect them is broken. There’s no question of going via the neighbouring property – it’s owned by a drugs lord and patrolled by gunmen. Lucas and Sveta are stranded. Sveta realises she can’t trust Kali, but can she trust Lucas? There are many things he’s hiding from her, that makes her suspicious of him too. What can she do?

The Vicious Circle is a twisty psychological thriller packed full of beautiful people in a terrifying setting. Sveta may be beautiful, but her mother still lives modestly in Florida, so we are on her side from the start, and once Lucas is introduced into the mix, we need to see if she’ll chuck Chase for him, her first love. If you’ve read any stories about cults before, you will know that when their ways are threatened, their leaders will do anything to maintain their power over their disciples. As Sveta gradually uncovers the truth about her uncle, Kali, the goings on at Xanadu, and Lucas, she is put into extreme peril. Can she survive? That would be telling, but you can guess. You know the way these things will usually work out!

The Vicious Circle is an absolute page-turner which I devoured. I don’t read a lot of this kind of novel, it was rather different to my usual fare, but I found it refreshing to read and thoroughly enjoyed the action and the characters.

Source: Review copy – Thank you! Harper 360 hardback, 320 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

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