This book had been on my Amazon wishlist for about 10 years. I don’t remember why but since I started this thing I’ve been trying to just buy up the whole damn list in chronological order and it’s insanely satisfying. I knew vaguely that this was a thriller/horror novel and that was about it. My expectations were modest, but I burned through “Under the Beetle’s Cellar” in about two days.
The book opens with a hostage situation involving 11 children and their bus driver kidnapped at gunpoint by a doomsday cult. The hostages are kept in a school bus buried underneath a barn by a charismatic preacher named Samuel Mordecai. I got that far around 2 am and then started pacing jumpily around my apartment, checking social media and making “tacos” out of whole wheat bread, peanut butter and maple syrup as a means of comfort. Two chewable melatonins later I was able to sleep but…maybe start this one during the day if you’re at all claustrophobic. “trapped in a buried school bus” now ranks somewhere between “strangled by high school crush” and “only myself and #45 survive the apocalypse” on my list of stuff I really don’t want to happen to me.
Shortly after we get the hostage setup, we’re introduced to Molly Cates, a tough but emotional reporter who has previously written a profile of Mordecai. Molly is my kind of protagonist: an exclusively pants-wearing middle-aged broad who’s trying to do more push-ups, likes egg McMuffins, and is not so sure about moving in with her ex-husband/current boyfriend because she’s obsessed with her work. She’s a perfect foil to Samuel Mordecai, a hot, crazy cult leader with mommy issues who can totally call me because my taste in men is nothing if not tragic. It’s apparent at the beginning of the book that Molly will become invested and try to catch Mordecai and save the hostages, but the book wraps around to the conclusion in a way that’s entertaining as hell.
While intrinsically dark and suspenseful, the book manages some uplifting moments in the scenes on the bus. The driver Walter Demming is a Vietnam veteran who keeps it together as best he can and becomes somewhere between a parental figure and a coach as he uses his army training to help the kids stay sane and prepare them for a potential fight with their captors.
Some of the plot points lean toward the preposterous, but not so much that it took me away from the story. I don’t want to give any more of the details away because that was part of the fun, but I enjoyed this book and have already ordered another one by Mary Willis Walker.